Metro Weekly

Virginia Restaurant Denies Service to Anti-LGBTQ Family Foundation

Virginia-based Family Foundation was turned away by a restaurant due to the group's advocacy against abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Metzger Bar and Butchery – Photo: Facebook.

A restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, sparked a controversy after they canceled a reservation for a private event being held by the Family Foundation, a Virginia-based conservative Christian organization that has historically held significant sway over Virginia lawmakers and is vocal about its opposition to same-sex marriage, nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and abortion rights.

The Family Foundation was scheduled to host a dessert reception at Metzger Bar and Butchery for supporters on Nov. 30, according to a blog post by the group’s president, Victoria Cobb. But about 90 minutes before the event was scheduled to start, one of the restaurant’s owners called to cancel the reservation.

“As our VP of Operations explained that guests were arriving at their restaurant shortly, she asked for an explanation,” Cobb wrote in the blog post, in which she lamented the organization being “canceled” and sought to cast the incident as a form of discrimination against Christians. “Sure enough, an employee looked up our organization, and their wait staff refused to serve us.”

Cobb compared the cancelation of the reservation to the discrimination that Black Americans faced in the 1950s and 1960s, when they were denied service by restaurants and lunch counters due to their race. She also blasted the Left for holding a “double standard” for expecting bakers with religious beliefs opposing homosexuality — like Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker at the center of a 2018 Supreme Court case — to bake cakes for same-sex weddings while supporting the right of a business to refuse service to people “who hold biblical values around marriage.”

“At The Family Foundation, we believe individuals in private business should not have to violate their convictions, which for some Christians means not celebrating what God has declared sin (Roman 1:32). However, most, if not all, faiths not only allow for the provision of services, like food, to those with whom they disagree, but they also encourage it,” Cobb continued.

She predicted that the Family Foundation would continue to be discriminated against for its beliefs, left with limited options for goods and services as these types of refusals continue. She also turned the blog post into a pitch for donations, asking supporters to “support our efforts to ensure that no Virginian will ever have to worry about being refused a simple meal because of his or her religious beliefs.”

In an interview with CBS MoneyWatch, Cobb once again cast herself and her organization as victims, calling the denial of service “alarming and disgraceful.”

“It’s not a good business model to have the feeling like people are making an assessment of you of whether you’re worthy to eat at their restaurant,” Cobb said. “It’s uncomfortable for people to think that’s how we’re going to function in society.”

The nation’s civil rights laws, and most state nondiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on political beliefs or ideology. The limited number of jurisdictions prohibiting discrimination based on political beliefs or ideology include the District of Columbia, the city of Seattle, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Some legal experts have also said Cobb’s analogy drawing a comparison between the Family Foundation being refused service by Metzger Bar and Butchery and the pre-Civil Rights era forms of racial discrimination is not an accurate comparison. While religion, like race, is considered a protected characteristic under civil rights laws, the refusal was not based on the Family Foundation’s purported “Christian” identity, but their actions.

“It’s about the overall positions and policies the group has taken — it’s not about Christian vs. non-Christian,” Elizabeth Sepper, a professor at the University of Texas, told The Washington Post.

Metzger Bar and Butchery responded to the controversy in an Instagram post, defending its actions.

“Metzger Bar and Butchery has always prided itself on being an inclusive environment for people to dine in. In eight years of service we have rarely refused service to anyone who wished to dine with us,” the post reads. “Recently we refused service to a group that had booked an event with us after the owners of Metzger found out it was a group of donors to a political organization that seeks to deprive women and LGBTQ+ persons of their basic human rights in Virginia.

“We have always refused service to anyone for making our staff uncomfortable or unsafe and this was the driving force behind our decision,” the post continues. “Many of our staff are women and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community. All of our staff are people with rights who deserve dignity and a safe work environment. We respect our staff’s established rights as humans and strive to create a work environment where they can do their jobs with dignity, comfort and safety.”

Denial of service became a political issue back in 2018, after then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen, a restaurant in Lexington, Va., due to the owner’s belief that Sanders was “a person whose actions in the service of our country we felt violated basic standards of humanity,” according to the Post. Similarly, a judge in New York sided with a bar that ejected a customer for wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in support of former President Donald Trump, on the grounds that political affiliation and beliefs aren’t a protected characteristic under nondiscrimination laws.

Metzger Bar and Butchery appears to have engendered some backlash, as its Yelp page was temporarily disabled to stop accepting comments from the public due to the media attention. Yelp also marked the page with an “Unusual Activity Alert,” noting that such situations often engender partisans to post one-star, unfavorable reviews of establishments as a form of retribution. 

“While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to this incident, we’ve temporarily disabled the posting of content to this page as we work to investigate whether the content you see here reflects actual consumer experiences rather than the recent events,” Yelp Support wrote in the alert notice. “Please note that we apply this same policy regardless of the business and regardless of the topic at issue.”

But the restaurant appears not to be swayed by the backlash, doubling down on its support for the LGBTQ community. On Dec. 2, it posted an image to Instagram of a bourbon-based cocktail dubbed “Cracks in the Foundation,” saying it would donate the profits from the sale of the cocktail to Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s statewide LGBTQ organization. 

“We are so grateful to our many guests and neighbors for their support the past few days!” the Instagram post reads. “To say thank you we are donating all proceeds from this cocktail to @equalityva tonight!”

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