Sunday, November 17, 2013

Responding to bigots

A young gay waiter was refused a tip by “Christians” despite providing excellent service to them. They said he was an affront to their god. This time, there’s a happy ending.

The video above reports the story (Update: The video has been removed; the link goes to the original story), but the gist of it is that the “Christians” weren’t content with merely sanctimoniously stiffing the waiter: They went on the attack, in full bigoted flight, writing on the receipt:
“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. Fags do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours. We hope you will see the tip your faggot choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for fags. May GOD have mercy on you.”
Any normal person would be appalled by the bigoted behaviour of the self-righteous “Christians”, none more so than real Christians who would be particularly disgusted—and rightly so—at what these people did in the name of the religion they supposedly share.

As it always does, word spread through social media and before long people made a point of going to the restaurant to tip the young man and offer support. So, the bigots who no doubt felt so pridefully self-satisfied from operationalising their hatred of gay people, ended up earning the young man far more money than the proper tip would have cost them. This is the best way to respond to bigots: Undo the damage they cause.

Bigots stiffing LGBT waiters is not at all unusual, of course. Gay Star News recently reported that a bigoted family wrote a note to their lesbian waitress on their bill: “Sorry, I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle and the way you live your life." When the waitress—a former US marine—introduced herself to them and said her name was Dayna, the woman (and presumed mother of the kids) of the couple said, "Oh I thought you were gonna say your name is Dan. You sure surprised us!" What a nice lady! About as nice as diarrhoea.

An important point here is that in the USA, wait staff are paid very badly because it’s assumed they’ll get tips to make up the difference; they depend on tips to make a somewhat decent wage from what is very difficult physical labour. So, when a waiter provides good or even adequate service, anyone who doesn’t tip a waiter in the USA is effectively stealing the services of the waiter (withholding a tip for bad service is not the same thing). As an aside, waiters in New Zealand are never tipped—except for extraordinary service—because they’re paid decent wages to start out with.

Obviously, everyone has the right to hold whatever opinions they want, no matter how vile or appalling we might find those opinions. They can also talk about their dreadful beliefs if they want to—none of that is at issue here. But going out of one’s way to attack someone and using bigoted language to do so is NOT okay. These clearly self-righteous people did it to make themselves feel superior to the people who worked hard on their behalf.

Normal people would never launch bigoted attacks like that. Even if they chose to stiff a waiter for being gay (or Black, or Hispanic, or…), they wouldn’t use the payment slip as an opportunity to attack the waiter AFTER they’ve already been served! That raises assholery to an entirely new level.

There are plenty of pretty awful people who do despicable things. Obviously, stiffing a waiter for being gay isn’t the worst thing imaginable (and nowhere near as bad as trying to kill a waiter for being gay, for example). However, I think such active acts of bigotry demonstrate how uncivil American society has become: Scoring ideological points now trumps the rules of civility we all once took for granted. Has America entered the "Frowning Age", in which everyone claims the right to put personal ideology ahead of the common good, heck, ahead of common decency? Is routinely taking it upon oneself to punish other people for being who they are now okay?

No, it’s not. The more that we hold such bigoted people up for contempt and ridicule, the sooner it will stop. However, the more important thing is that when we see harm done by bigots, we decent people have a duty to try and heal the wounds. That could mean simply offering a kind word, maybe apologising for the reprehensible behaviour of bigots, or sometimes it could mean going out of our way to give a tip to a waiter who was stiffed by a bigot. Hatred and bigotry are enabled and encouraged when good people do and say nothing. We must choose to be on the side of the good people.

Addendum: This post was specifically about anti-LGBT bigotry directed at wait staff, but I wanted to highlight a similar incident that was racist. In this case, too, good people worked to undo the damage caused by bigots (the story at the link has the full details). It, too, is a good example of a proper response to bigotry in action. However, most people to whom this happens won’t get such an outpouring of financial support, which is why it’s so important that people do what they can—big or small—to undo the damage bigots cause.

Update – November 20, 2013: Dayna Morales, the New Jersey waitress who was stiffed by a bigoted family, announced that she's donating all the money given to her by well-wishers—some $2000 so far—to the Wounded Warrior project, a charity that helps severely injured veterans. But wait, there's more: The restaurant she works at is matching the donations. So those bigots who set out to hurt and "punish" Dayna ended up causing something good despite themselves. "I never really expected or imagined this could happen," Dayna told the media. And once again, the damage done by bigots is undone.

Update 2 – November 27, 2013: New York’s NBC News has broadcast a story (Warning: That link has a video of the news report that will autoplay when the page loads) in which a couple claims to be the alleged homophobic couple who stiffed Dayna Morales, but have presented their copy of the receipt that shows a tip, along with a copy of their Visa bill proving that’s what they were billed. The restaurant is investigating.

Also, the alleged racist incident I mentioned in the addendum above is also being denied by the man who was claimed to have scrawled a racist epithet. He says he’ll sue the restaurant (of course). Because not even mainstream news sites bother to update information they post online, I was unaware of this development when I posted the addendum, or I would never have included it.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been pwned, and it won’t be the last. In this case, the fact that two incidents I mentioned were allegedly faked doesn’t change my central point, namely, that the best way to deal with bigotry is to challenge it and, where possible, to repair the damage done. I’m just really annoyed that people would allegedly fake incidents like these.

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