North Dakota

N.D. shop owner says ban on lawmakers who nixed LGBT rights bill served its purpose

Joe Curry, a barista and one of the owners at Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo, N.D., became the focal point of an anti-discrimination debate after he posted a sign mocking lawmakers who voted against a bill to prohibit discrimination in housing and government based on sexual orientation.

Joe Curry, a barista and one of the owners at Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo, N.D., became the focal point of an anti-discrimination debate after he posted a sign mocking lawmakers who voted against a bill to prohibit discrimination in housing and government based on sexual orientation. Dave Kolpack, AP

Joe Curry, a barista and one of the owners at Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo, N.D., became the focal point of an anti-discrimination debate after he posted a sign mocking lawmakers who voted against a bill to prohibit discrimination in housing and government based on sexual orientation. Dave Kolpack, AP

Joe Curry, a barista and one of the owners at Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo, N.D., became the focal point of an anti-discrimination debate after he posted a sign mocking lawmakers who voted against a bill to prohibit discrimination in housing and government based on sexual orientation.

FARGO, N.D. — A worker-owner of a Fargo coffee shop who instituted a tongue-in-cheek ban on North Dakota lawmakers for opposing an anti-discrimination bill says the response has been “99.9 percent positive” and that he made his point, even if a few people didn’t like it.

Joe Curry, one of the worker-owners of the Red Raven Espresso Parlor, posted a newspaper page in the shop earlier this month that showed the 55 Republican state House members who rejected a bill that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, government, public services and the workplace. It was accompanied by a sign saying the legislators were banned, “Unless accompanied by a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, queer, intersex or asexual person.”

The stunt got a lot of attention, with Republican-led legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas having just rolled back their new religious objections laws under pressure from critics who considered the laws invitations to discriminate against the LGBT community. Curry said he wanted to use humor to make a serious point and to show support for his customers, whom he describes as mostly “lefties” in a conservative state.

“The ban was, I thought, very tongue in cheek, requiring them to be escorted by someone from the LBGT community,” Curry said Wednesday. “I hope that they thought about it, at least, and I hope some of them giggled. But in the end, they are all welcome here.”

Not everyone giggled.

State Rep. Josh Boschee, a Red Raven regular and the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, said he didn’t like the tactic.

“I understand what they are trying to make a point but I would have done it differently,” the Fargo Democrat said.

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Republican state Rep. Jim Kasper, a local who voted against the legislation, said he’s never been in the coffee shop because he doesn’t get downtown much. He also took the ban seriously and went as far as to support the premise.

“They have the perfect right to refuse anyone they want,” Kasper said.

The ban got attention on cable news shows. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry described it as her “favorite thing that happened this week” and wondered aloud if Fargo was a “center of LGBT rights.”

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