Some Micanopy business owners say they have been attacked and discriminated against by town officials and some locals for showing support for the LGBTQ community.
One of the businesses has closed its shop due to safety concerns.
in January. On 14/14, the owners of antique store Restless Mommas announced in a Facebook post that they were closing in Micanopy. While no specific threats were mentioned, the store, owned by a same-sex couple, hinted at being kicked out of town due to the anti-LGBTQ views of some area residents.
“It was a horrible minute there,” the page tweeted to one commenter.
“We’re very saddened by this … but we can’t risk our safety.”
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The concerns stemmed from an enforcement letter sent to the store telling the owner to remove a pride flag on the side of their building, which was first raised in June. Town officials said the flag violated local land development regulations that prohibit the flying of “pennants.”
But it wasn’t the only business to receive the letter. Melissa Bambrick, who manages Lost Ark Antiques, said she put up a rainbow-colored flag that read “Hate Has No Home Here.” She said the letter was received in late November, shortly after she raised the flag.
“I laughed,” Bambrick said. “I sent them a stern email saying you’re not going to send me this open flag or welcome flag letter because all my flags have been flying since we reopened in October. The only thing that’s different The flag is our ‘No Hate’ flag.”
Locals point to Micanopy commissioner
Bambrick and others have pinned the blame on Micanopy Commissioner Mike Roberts, who they say has made numerous anti-LGBTQ statements in the past and used his political position to reflect his personal views.
A series of posts can soon be found on Roberts’ Facebook in which he shares his thoughts on members of the LGBTQ community.
He praised Chic-fil-A’s stance on same-sex marriage, calling it “an abomination.” He also wrote, “Being gay is a sin. Sin will lead you to the abyss of hell.”
When the Boy Scouts of America ended a century-long ban on openly gay members in May 2013, he said it would be the “end” of the program.
“Scouts of America ended May 23, 2013,” he wrote, the same day the Scouts voted on the issue.
When the Gainesville Sun asked by email for comment on the restless mom’s situation, Roberts baselessly said he could not comment on “anonymous social media posts,” suggesting he was aware of the store owner’s Facebook post.
“I have always lived in a place where all races and nationalities are respected and appreciated,” the interim mayor wrote to The Sun. “The Town of Micanopy has been and will continue to be a welcoming community for all.”
However, supporters of the LGBTQ community don’t see it that way.
“Anyone who showed something that Mike didn’t like, Mike went after,” Bambrick said. “He’s using the town for his own political gain as much as his own agenda.”
These hostilities have recently spilled over into January. 10 town council meeting, locals defend shopkeepers who were not present. Some also noted that there were no instances of locals displaying Trump flags cited.
Micanopy resident Deborah Hart said: “I hug these women because they’re leaving, because they’re terrified, but they’re being discriminated against by a commissioner who’s sitting here right now…I’m terrified.”
Roberts argued that the women were not discriminated against “and were not singled out or made fun of”. At one point during the meeting, he said “the most discriminated people are fat”.
He said the problems seemed to start when he and his wife met a woman who asked him if he knew the owner of Restless Mommas. He asked her to clarify if she meant “two lesbians who bought a business downtown.”
Commissioner Jiana Williams sounded surprised to learn of the chain of events, saying it was disheartening to hear why business owners were leaving town.
“I do see where you can think about singling out a person’s sexual preferences,” she said. “I believe that as advisors to the board, we do have to be careful about how we describe people, how we express our personal views, but we may feel , because we represent the town.”
The owners of Restless Mommas also announced to customers on Facebook that they will soon be opening a new store in Gainesville. They said they were discussing legal action and would be represented by lawyer Holiday Hunt Russell.
Gershon Harrell is an education reporter for the Gainesville Sun. He can be reached by phone at (352) 338-3166, by email at Gharrell@gannett.com or on Twitter @GershonReports.