Nothing Fishy Here

By Larry McDonald of Portland, Oregon. Larry describes himself simply as "finally old enough to make the curmudgeon thing work."

I have just developed a great deal more sympathy for John Bell, the OPB staffer who booked Ira Glass into New Hope Church. According to my direct communications with other staffers at OPB, Bell googled New Hope, knew they were conservative but didn't understand the depth and breadth of the church's opposition to equal rights for the GLBT community.

You see, it's Sunday morning and in reading my daily paper I found an ad for the environmentally friendly pest control company I'd called last week to check out the waves of 'flying ants' that came from under my deck earlier this month. No big deal there. It makes as much sense for them to advertise in the paper as it does on the internet, which is where I found them -- by googling.

There was, however, one tiny but significant difference. As complete as the website seemed, nowhere in it did I find that little symbol that would have sent me searching in another direction: The (cold) Fish.

Yup. I, a gay man, had just made an appointment to pay money to a company that pointedly displays a cold-blooded creature to communicate its support of equally cold-blooded activities in direct violation of my rights as an American citizen. And at least some of that money was very, very likely to find its way into those activities.

What was more galling was that I have, for a score of years, made a conscious effort not to put my money where those fishy mouths are or where the mouths of the politicians who pander to them are. I have downloaded any number of reports on which companies- Home Depot and Target, for instance- contribute primarily to Republican candidates and causes, which businesses (Domino's Pizza and Curves, ditto) make big bucks for troglodyte religionists and their proxies.

On a local level I've always been aware and cautious but this time -- it was an ooops moment. Fortunately, I found the ad when I did. I avoided the potential embarrassment of the gay couple in Dallas (TX) to whom the evangelical gardening service placed a call to say 'We don't work for people like you.' I didn't have to ask them to leave my property. And I didn't have to move venues, but as I said, I've developed a great deal more sympathy for John Bell.

Comments

  • Albert (unverified)
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    I'd love a pointer to a list of all corporations who indulge in such fishy practices. I tend to avoid big box stores, but have heard that Costco is a winner on many fronts. And then there's my shrine - New Seasons.

  • Inthewoods (unverified)
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    [Off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]

  • (Show?)

    Congrats, Larry, on not having to kick homophobes out of your yard (although if I was your neighbor I would have helped.)

    I second Albert's request, too. Any tips?

  • JHL (unverified)
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    While I wouldn't pay money to a homophobic company, I'd like to know more about what that particular company meant by displaying the little fish symbol.

    Sure, many extremeists have hijacked that and other symbols of Christianity (as well as the whole religion it seems), but I know tolerant people who display that symbol simply because it references Christ -- who was, from all accounts, a pretty accepting guy.

    One of the many links between Christ and fish is a story that progressives should take to: That when Christ's sermon ended and it was lunchtime, the apostles were like, "Ok everybody, it's BYOB!" But Christ was all, "No way; we've got fish enough for everybody. We'll share our resources." (parahrased)

    So what I'm saying is, if there's an intolerant bastard on your lawn, I will gladly help you kick him off your property. But Christianity has its roots in principles of tolerance, community, and economic justice...

    To paraphrase another leader, Let's judge people by the content of their character... and not by who has hijacked their faith.

  • Bryan Boyd (unverified)
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    Here are some useful links:

    The Human Rights Campaign Corporate Index Report The Human Rights Campaign Shopping Guide

    There used to be BuyBlue.org but it looks like they've gone offline until Fall of 2007.

  • (Show?)

    Standard T.V. & Appliance is owned by a man who made substantial contributions to Lon Mabon's anti-gay initiatives in the early & mid-1990s. I don't know if he's done the same more recently. His former store on Woodstock Avenue was vandalized in during one campaign; the vandals were never identified but widely thought to be Reed College students, as Mabon and national factors generated militant pro-queer politics among some students there.

    The fish symbol does not necessarily denote radical Christian Right views. It is a generic symbol of Christianity dating from pre-Constantinian Roman days, as the Greek word for fish, ICTHYS, served as an acronym for a phrase to the effect that Jesus was the messiah. (I write this as a full equal rights for all atheist with liberal-progressive pro-equality Christian relatives and friends).

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    My experience with the fish (and I admit that those were mainly outside Oregon) is that it is used as it was in the early Christian era when it was drawn in the dust or on the palm to say in secret– we are kindred, not like them.

    I grew up in a Born-Again household in the Ozarks and count among my family and my loved ones a number of evangelicals, including a niece whom I love dearly who not long ago spent 3 years as a missionary nurse on the Mosquito Coast. It was from them that I understood how seriously they take the fish as a symbol of "Spend your money here, we're your kind of people."

    Finally, my experience with a building inspector in Sonoma County CA who demanded that a friend's general contractor take the Darwin fish off his truck before her project could be signed off. "I don't approve of projects by Satanists" was his explanation, "but if you replaced it with a real fish, I'll feel a lot better about this job."

    Thanks for the positive words.

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    My experience with the fish (and I admit that those were mainly outside Oregon) is that it is used as it was in the early Christian era when it was drawn in the dust or on the palm to say in secret– we are kindred, not like them.

    I grew up in a Born-Again household in the Ozarks and count among my family and my loved ones a number of evangelicals, including a niece whom I love dearly who not long ago spent 3 years as a missionary nurse on the Mosquito Coast. It was from them that I understood how seriously they take the fish as a symbol of "Spend your money here, we're your kind of people."

    Finally, my experience with a building inspector in Sonoma County CA who demanded that a friend's general contractor take the Darwin fish off his truck before her project could be signed off. "I don't approve of projects by Satanists" was his explanation, "but if you replaced it with a real fish, I'll feel a lot better about this job."

    Thanks for the positive words.

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    My experience with the fish (and I admit that those were mainly outside Oregon) is that it is used as it was in the early Christian era when it was drawn in the dust or on the palm to say in secret– we are kindred, not like them.

    I grew up in a Born-Again household in the Ozarks and count among my family and my loved ones a number of evangelicals, including a niece whom I love dearly who not long ago spent 3 years as a missionary nurse on the Mosquito Coast. It was from them that I understood how seriously they take the fish as a symbol of "Spend your money here, we're your kind of people."

    Finally, my experience with a building inspector in Sonoma County CA who demanded that a friend's general contractor take the Darwin fish off his truck before her project could be signed off. "I don't approve of projects by Satanists" was his explanation, "but if you replaced it with a real fish, I'll feel a lot better about this job."

    Thanks for the positive words.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.

    Teach a man to fish, and his yard will go to hell.

  • trishka (unverified)
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    larry, i wholeheartedly support your right to spend your money where you choose, for whatever reason you choose.

    like others have noted above, though, the use of the fish symbol is not, to my knowledge automatically indicative that the bearer is of the intolerant brand of christian.

    the thought that came to my mind was - what would happen if you had engaged the person in a conversation about the issue. something as simple as: "i saw the fish symbol on your ad. you should probably know that i am gay. is that something you have a problem with? if so, i will happily take my business elsewhere."

    i'm guessing that the worst thing that could happen would be an unleashing of homophobic invective, and i could sure see why you wouldn't want to risk inviting that. on the other hand, you might hear an altogether different response.

    i dunno, it's a tough situation. not being gay, i'm not in a position to make much judgment on your choices here, not having walked in your mocassins and all that.

  • James X. (unverified)
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    Uh, there's also the fact that Bell is openly gay. That seems kind of not anti-gay of him.

  • juliebloom (unverified)
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    Huh? "not anti-gay of him" makes no sense ...

  • Brian (unverified)
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    Damn, you're a rather prejudiced individual aren't ya' Larry? All that over a business using an ixthus symbol on some yellow pages ad? For a guy who pretends to be all about equality and tolerance, you come off more like some ignorant hypocrite. Just an observation.

    BTW, I happen to know several Christian folks who happen to wear or display that particular fish symbol and some would come down on your side regarding gay rights.

  • Anon (unverified)
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    Funny how the word "tolerance" gets us into coherency problems. If "tolerance" is given its traditional meaning of "putting up with people you strongly disagree with" then many of those ixthus users might in fact be very tolerant people, certainly more so then you give them credit for by judging so quickly.

    Or, if we give "tolerance" is new-age meaning of "all opinions are equally valid" then it seems you violate that one a priori.

    Soooo... is it me or is this a rather flaky article?

  • ellie (unverified)
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    I would agree that not all fish-adorners are anti-gay, BUT I don't blame Larry for his apprehension, given the present political climate. I'm relieved to see/hear more and more religious liberals, but I'm afraid they're hardly the majority.

    While some would like to say being tolerant means being tolerant of everything, I don't buy that. You can be intolerant of intolerance -- and I think that's what Larry is getting at. He doesn't want to support people who are against him. I'd feel the same way if I were in his position. Or to bring up the example everyone likes to use -- Hitler, anyone?

  • wondering (unverified)
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    If it is OK to discriminate against people who openly display the fish, is it then also OK to discriminate against people who are openly gay?

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    I swear I only punched that post button once.

    Some points, though...

    I never suggested that Bell was anti-gay. On the contrary, I was sympathizing with him as another gay man for an "ooops" choice. How'd you miss that?

    As to Brian's "for a guy who pretends to be all about equality and tolerance," where the $#!** does that come from? I'm all about equality as a legal issue but my tolerance threshold for bigots and hypocrites is quite low... fortunately for Brian (unlike Brian) my courtesy standards on these posts is fairly high.

  • Anon (unverified)
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    You can be intolerant of intolerance -- and I think that's what Larry is getting at.

    I have to strongly disagree. If one is intolerant of something on the grounds of it being "intolerant" then what is that if not hypocracy?

    Other then a seperate moral code of conduct, of which Christianity is itself, one cannot judge something as "intoerant" and have it carry any teeth without being patently irrational.

    I don't know, the entire setup stikes me as a mess.

  • (Show?)

    For a guy who pretends to be all about equality and tolerance...

    Ahhhh, Brian and Anon trot out the ol' "tolerance" trope -- a sure-fire sign of right-wingitude.

    Guys, seriously, pay attention. We lefties stopped talking about "tolerance" sometime in the late 1980s.

    You see, the goal isn't to "tolerate" diversity. That would seem to imply "we don't like you, but we'll put up with you anyway."

    Rather, the goal now is to "celebrate" diversity. (Seen the bumper stickers?) That implies that "every human is special, even the ones that aren't like me - and isn't that great?"

    Anytime you see the ol' "You people say you're tolerant, but you're being intolerant of homophobes like me" argument, well, that's your sign that you've found someone who worships at the feet of David Horowitz.

  • Anon (unverified)
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    Kari,

    The person who has influanced my views of the issues behind tolerance problems the most is not a right winger by a longshot. Intellectual consistency doesn't have to be right wing does it?

    Secondly, how did what you said get you in any way clear of the rational problems? The way I read it, it dug you one step deeper, because now you're not only disagreeing, you're failing to celebrate views different than your own. Calling people "intolerant homophobes" (neither of which is accurate or very nice btw) violates your own proclaimed standards of measurement. BS much?

    As for David Horowitz, I couldn't give a flick. If I worship at the feet of anyone it's portland's own Craig Carr. Read the description for http://www.amazon.com/Liberal-Polity-Inquiry-Logic-Association/dp/0230019641/ref=sr_1_7/104-4972366-1729514?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1190781770&sr=8-7 and tell me just how neocon that sounds.

    But, since I'm sure you feel warm and fuzzy having insulted somebody without any grounds, I'll leave you to your fan club.

  • (Show?)

    Guess the cartoon drawn by teenager Brendan Deiz earlkier on BlueOregon is a little to advanced a concept for Anon and Brian to grasp.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    Let me see, you're advertising for my business in pest control and you use a fish? I care about the bugs being dead or someplace else, not your faith, your sexual orientation, or your race; and if you find it important enough to pay advertising rates for it I think your perspective is messed up and I want a bug killer, not a proselytizer. Clear enough? Tolerance is not an issue, bug killing is.

    The fish is supposed to represent what? Some indeterminate moral standing of the advertiser? I'll just bet you use "Honest Al's Used Cars" for all your automotive needs because he says he's honest and paid for those extra letters... Me? I'd go someplace else, no question about it.

  • (Show?)

    Tolerance, in the slightly stronger sense of working to get along, has to be a two-way street if to mean anything. If someone is working actively to hurt me or my friends, to deny them equal rights and full citizen status, I have no obligation to patronize their business and they have no leg to stand on to claim that I ought to, on the ground of "tolerance" -- their discriminatory actions have already taken that out of the equation. There is no logical inconsistency at all.

    Brian, your problem is that you are imputing to liberals a position they don't hold, in general. Possibly this involves a confusion about the ACLU-liberal type of attitude toward free speech -- "free speech absolutism," which is not really about tolerance, but about the principles supposed to be necessary to defend a right.

    While I suspect Kari's comment is partly tongue in cheek liberal joking about liberal foibles, in general the "celebrate diversity" idea is not saying everything is equally good. It is more along the lines of looking for the good in any given thing, the things we can all learn from one another. So I may find the charitable and volunteer work of conservative Christians admirable. I will celebrate that, along with somewhat similar yet differently expressed ethical teachings in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zulu ancestor veneration and so on. I think I can in fact learn some things about personal commitment to following through on values of love taught in Christianity from conservative Christians (as well as liberal ones).

    On the other hand, I also think that many conservative Christians could learn something from liberals, whether religious or not. Like asking themselves exactly how it affects in any way their own marriages within their faith if same sex couples get married? There is a journey from surprise and fear at the new idea, to admitting that it doesn't really affect religious marriages, to seeing it as a matter of justice in terms of the civil rights that civil law accords all marriages and of humanity in letting people express love and commitment in ways that are meaningful to them. A lot of people have made that journey; I believe more will do so.

    Also, despite my admiration for parts of the ethical lives of many Christians, and the commitment that appears to proceed from their faith, I find the attitude of many political Right Wing Christians toward homosexual people rather pharisaical. That is, the attitude, often embodied in quoting snippets of scripture while ignoring less convenient ones, seems to resemble the "New Testament" (mis)portrayal of the Pharisees as people so tied up in the minutiae of the law and the prophets that they lose the spirit of the teachings. Paul was homophobic, but he was also pretty heterophobic as well, anti-sex & also by putting the blame for sex on women misogynistic. Paul's texts do not provide license for the positive celebration of heterosexual marriage & "family values" by the Christian Right, and many others. For Paul, marriage was a second-rate choice for people not able to be truly spiritual.

    So if we're going to take up Paul's hostility to homosexuality, why not his hostility to heterosexuality? Rather better would be to take the lesson that there is more and better value and love in families than Paul could admit, and extend it to queers' families as well. If caritas is greater even than faith and hope, if lovingkindness is the aimed for ideal for building a community of spirit, how does that not lead us to support the conclusion that love makes a family, as the name of the equal marriage rights organization so clearly puts it?

    But, back to intolerance. Despite denialist protestations to the contrary, the homophobia goes beyond just differences of moral judgments. Preaching that there is a shadowy, sinful, nefarious and conspiratorial group pushing a "Gay agenda" is preaching hatred, no more, no less. It goes after not only GLBTQ people but also anyone who embraces and supports their claims to full equality. All become part of the conspiracy. In addition to its direct attacks, this rhetoric and ideology tries to isolate queer people from family members, friends and allies.

    As the French youth-music anti-racist movement said in the 1980s -- Hands Off My Pal. That's not intolerance, it's solidarity.

    <hr/>

    Apropos of David Horowitz: Remember when one of the great sins of p.c. people was that they practiced victim politics? Who's doing victim politics now?

  • ws (unverified)
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    Through its reduction to a cheap marketing tool, sightings of the "christian fish" have become generally repellent to me. The christian insider joke displayed on follow-up bumperstickers about the fish eating Darwin hasn't improved my regard for the way christians today are using the fish. That kind of smarmy self righteousness makes no points with me. But you never know....those telephone book ads with the little christian fish might represent some fair minded people too.

    I can think of a little test for whether they might be fair minded: Call them up on the phone. O.K., now, assuming the caller has a guy's voice, nonchalantly make a fairly common introduction such as: "My Boyfriend/Husband and I are looking for somebody that can get rid of the waves of flying ants under our deck. That should cue them to the situation. Base whether they're fair-minded on whatever follows next. This is kind of like the fairness in housing commercials that have running on tv lately where a guy calls up asking about the availability of an apartment using a range of different ethnic accents.

    Of course, even if they come out and do the work, that may not necessarily mean that they don't dislike you for what you are. You'd still have to watch what's going on until you were sure who you were dealing with, but isn't that the case with most everything?

  • edison (unverified)
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    Then there's always this: http://www.pdxgayyellowpages.com/p/yellow.asp

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Congratulations Larry, you fell to the same discriminatory level of labels and assumptions you accuse others of. I am Christian and believe in rights for all. I have campaigned against the ridiculous 'one man-one woman' campaigns in the past and will continue to. I'm not very proud of Oregon's legislature last session. One thing that they got correct was gay rights.

    But you go ahead Larry and discriminate based on your assumptions about another individual without engaging any meaningful dialogue.

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    Thanks, Kurt. That was my plan.

  • trishka (unverified)
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    well, getting into the whole "intolerance" & "discrimination" thing, i wholeheartedly support larry's right to spend his money - or not- wherever he chooses for whatever reason.

    otherwise, i stand in the position of being called "intolerant" of the sam walton family due to my choice to not shop at walmart. i don't want to shop at walmart, larry doesn't want to patronize that pest control business, some country music fans don't want to buy dixie chick cd's - it's all fine.

    now, if one of sam walton's children wanted to move into my neighborhood (ha! fat chance) and i put on a concerted campaign to get a law passed not allowing them in, that would be discrimination.

    my only thing is that the displaying of a fish symbol does not always connote anti-gay bigotry. but if larry doesn't want to put the energy into engaging them in dialogue to find out if that is, in fact, the case, that's okay too. we all have to pick our battles.

  • (Show?)

    Part of the problem is that in modern America all of the totems of Christianity seem to have been taken over by the very worst exemplars of Jesus' teachings. I'm a believing Christian but it would never occur to me to drive around with a fish on my car (OK, if I owned a car, work with me on this) or "Jesus is love" bumperstickers or anything like that, because I would not want other people (including other right wing yahoos) to mistake me for a right wing yahoo.

    (The one I want is the one that says, "Dear Jesus, please save me from Your followers.")

    Larry, it's possible you jumped the gun a little bit, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. If you are second guessing yourself, just call them up and have the conversation. If you were wrong, you'll be pleased to find that out. And if you were right, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that they now know that they've lost business because of their bigotry.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)
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    I guess I missed the part where the exterminator claimed to be anti-gay, too. The fish was the exterminators' way of proclaiming Christianity.

    Without further investigation, that is ALL you know about the company.

    And you're free to make as much out of that as you want, obviously, but this article equates all of Christianity with being homophobic.

    And while I'm no fan of the Christianist haters, that kind of generalization is wrong.

    He doesn't want to support people who are against him.

    Again, I'm not quite sure a fish symbol says "I'm against you." It certainly could mean that, but Larry never determined that to be the case before he came to his conclusion that these people were "against him."

    You've convicted this company of being bigots for no reason other than they proclaimed their Christianity.

    That's pretty closed minded. None of you have a problem with that?

    Larry my be right, of course, but we'll never know because nobody took the time to find out for sure before you convicted these people of being bigots. Nice work!

  • trishka (unverified)
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    That's pretty closed minded. None of you have a problem with that?

    it's called the free market. we're allowed to vote with our dollars any way we choose.

    i can boycott target because of their practice of allowing their pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for Plan B birth control.

    or because i don't like the color red. it's my choice.

    now, the rest of the article, wherein larry generalizes that anyone who sports a fish symbol is anti-gay, that's not so much. but his original choice to spend his money elsewhere, based on something he saw in their ad? entirely his choice, and completely legitimate.

    just like a christian is free to choose to not patronize a business that sports a rainbow flag, for whatever reason.

  • Comparison (unverified)
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    it's called the free market. we're allowed to vote with our dollars any way we choose.

    Umm... okay. What if the flavor of the post had been: "I noticed that the exterminators were Jewish, so I didn't want their business because everyone knows they'll rip you off."

    Is it legal under a free market to choose not to do business there? Yes. But a statement like that should rightfully draw offense from everyone... negative conclusions based on someone else's religion.

    There's a difference between what's legal and what's appropriate.

  • trishka (unverified)
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    What if the flavor of the post had been: "I noticed that the exterminators were Jewish, so I didn't want their business because everyone knows they'll rip you off."

    well, the difference is between making personal choices about where to shop and going to to assert sweeping generalizations.

    does my choice to not patronize "curves" have anything to do with the religious beliefs of the owner(s)? you betcha. and that's my right.

    but again, larry's sweeping assertion that fish = anti-gay is not something i'm on board with.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)
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    I went to a mechanic once who advertised using the fish symbol. I asked him what that meant to him and he expounded on his faith which was fine. I then explained that I was an atheist and asked if there would be a problem. He said no...then he asked if I minded if he prayed over my car trouble. I told him he could do whatever he liked as long as it fixed the car within the estimated time and cost he had given me and as long as he didn't affix anything permanent to my vehicle doing it. I still take my car to him. Good guy. Don't know his views about gays, but if it was an issue for me, I'd ask him, he'd tell me and I'd either go there or not. What's the big deal? Especially in the metro area...there are plenty of exterminators and mechanics out there.

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: Pat Malach | Sep 26, 2007 9:51:45 AM That's pretty closed minded. None of you have a problem with that?

    I have a minor problem with it, in that seeing the Ichthys symbol is being taken as being sign that the person(s) in question are automatically anti-gay "Christians" who sports such a symbol in their ad. Doing so is, as others have noted up-thread, a bad assumption. There are more than a few Christians who actively work FOR equality for non-heterosexuals BECAUSE of their faith.

    However, boycotting an establishment or business because of the discrimination advocated by the owners is not something I have a problem with as a rule, but whether or not the business in question is guilty of said discrimination or advocacy is the unanswered question.

    <h2>That said, I can understand Larry's reticence and assumptions (even though they may be incorrect) given the years of high-profile anti-gay railing that many mainline "Christian" churches and leaders have undertaken of the past several decades, and the comparatively muted counter-voice by non-bigoted Christian's and leaders. Again, that is not to say there are not such people stnaidng for equality becuase of their faith, but the perception is out there (accurate or not) that many if not most christian churches are either anti-gay, or quietly looking the other way instead of calling out anti-gay "christian" churches and leaders.</h2>
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