January 2, 2012
by Joel Diaz
This past weekend I was a part of something incredible that happened in my community of Columbus, Ohio. After a fun night out in the Short North, my friend Ethan and I ventured down the street to a popular pizza truck called Mikey’s Late Night Slice. As a frequent late night visitor to the truck I knew the requisite wait in line is part of the process for securing an insanely good slice of pizza. It was really cold so Ethan and I were holding hands and standing close together to keep warm, we were laughing and joking about all the fun we’d had that night, when all of the sudden the guy in front of us turns around and tells us to cut our “gay shit” out.
I was a bit startled by his words but I didn’t expect what happened next. Almost every single person in that line made it known to him it was not OK for him to speak to us like that. By happenstance my friend John, who is also gay, was standing in front of him and as he continued his rant about being disgusted by us we both let him know that this was our city too and that we were not about to stand down to his bigoted ideas, especially not in one of the gayest neighborhoods in town. As he continued it was actually the straight people in line who spoke up that were so awesome.
I didn’t expect to see allies so willing to chime in and let this guy know that his hate speech wouldn’t be tolerated. The best part though was as he grew more irate and vocal the guys who work the truck stopped what they were doing and leaned towards the window and told him they would not serve him because he was spewing hate. They said they support everyone in our community and that he should get out of line because they would not be serving him. He begrudgingly got out of line and walked away escorted by a friend who had been hanging back.
As I walked away with my pizza all I could think about was “THAT’S IT!” Every person who spoke up to defend us including the pizza guys representing their business was doing their part to make hate a thing of the past. I’ve been involved for a number of years with our movement for equality having co-chaired the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Columbus and being involved as a community organizer but I had never witnessed such a public display of support. It was incredibly moving.
The next day I typed up a post on Facebook and shared it thinking my friends that read it might enjoy the display of courage of those that stood with Ethan and I that night and appreciate a local small business standing up for us as well. What I did not expect was the post to go viral and the responses from people all over the country regarding the story. It has been shared over 900 times since Sunday morning and a version with a fantastic response from Mikey’s Late Night Slice was posted to reddit with over 266,000 views to date.
I think the story was so powerful because we as an LGBT community don’t hear these types of stories where our allies and businesses speak up against oppressors. I think the fact that the story takes place in Ohio also has something to do with it. The state doesn’t have the best reputation for LGBT rights but Columbus is a very progressive city in our state. We have a very large active gay population and we are the home of one of the largest pride festivals in the Midwest. The city just celebrated its bicentennial and is known as a smart and open city, which is a testament to the diversity of our community here.
I think stories like this shared by our LGBT friends and allies are important because it gives people hope and courage. It shows that the arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice and we are not alone in this struggle. I ended my post by saying we must never forget to speak up and make our voices heard no matter where we find ourselves. I firmly believe this is how we will continue to change hearts and minds across this country and in the world but we can’t do it alone, we need everyone to take up our mantle for equality and drive it forward. I’m inspired and amazed at what has transpired with what started off as a simple post in appreciation of people who stood up for us and am grateful for the opportunity to share a little bit of Columbus with the world.