A lesbian couple who started a business in a small Florida town say they were forced to move due to feeling unsafe after a local commissioner made derogatory comments about their sexuality and their presence in the town.
Joy and Kat Drawdy, co-owners of the now-closed Restless Mommas gift shop in Micanopy, Florida, a dozen miles south of Gainesville, opened the store in June of last year. It sold clothes and crafts made by LGBTQ artists and people of color.
Shortly after moving in, their landlord received a letter from the town commission claiming the Pride Flag they were displaying on the store was a violation of zoning law and demanded its removal.
Despite neighboring businesses being allowed to fly American and “Police Lives Matter” flags, the Drawdys complied and took the flag down, according to the local independent news source Alligator.
The Drawdys initially felt like they were accepted by their clientele, and even bonded with customers sporting pro-Trump apparel who noted they had LGBTQ relatives. But they soon heard rumblings, secondhand, from friends and customers, that Micanopy Commissioner Mike Roberts had made derogatory comments about their sexuality and presence in the town.
“In such a small town, we couldn’t escape,” Joy Drawdy said, noting she had heard variations of the same story from about 30 different people in the town of roughly 660 people. “We couldn’t do business. It was all anybody was talking about.”
Roberts has a history of making comments that appear to express hostility toward LGBTQ people.
Ten years ago, he created a number of Facebook posts with statements like “being homosexual is a sin” and “I just feel sorry for these people. A (sic) eternity in Hell is their reward.”
After hearing of Roberts’ comments, Joy soon noticed that some people in trucks would pull up in front of the business and loudly rev their engines before skidding away.
Other people began making hateful Facebook comments directed at Restless Mommas. The rise in hostility made Joy feel targeted and concerned about her family’s safety.
In December, Joy, along with two or three other business owners, raised concerns over the fallout from Roberts’ comments with Town Administrator Sara Owen, who told her that the issue would be addressed at the town commission meeting on Jan. 10.
Owen soon stopped returning Joy Drawdy’s calls.
Days before the meeting, the Drawdys’ neighbor, America Gordon, called to ask if Roberts’ comments would be placed on the official agenda. Town leaders told Gordon it wasn’t a town issue.
The Drawdys, fearing that the hostility toward them would escalate, and feeling that no one took their concerns seriously, eventually decided to leave town on Jan. 8.
Two days later, at a packed town commission meeting, the commissioners failed to bring up the issue until a resident, Deborah Hart, raised it, prompting the commissioners to open up the meeting to public comment.
“To have two women invest in a business in this town that helps us all be discriminated against because they’re gay is not okay,” Hart said.
Other residents took offense, claiming that supporters of the Drawdys were unfairly tagging the whole town as “homophobic,” arguing that Roberts’ actions did not reflect the attitudes of the entire town.
Roberts responded that he never meant to discriminate against anyone, and that the allegations about his comments were a misrepresentation of a conversation he had with a client in his professional capacity as an insurance agent.
Roberts claimed that, during the exchange, the client asked him if he knew the women who had just opened a shop downtown, to which he responded, “Do you mean the two lesbian women who bought a business downtown?”
When Hart asked the commissioners why the issue was never added to the agenda, Owen, the town administrator, said that because it was not official town business, it was not placed on the agenda. Owen also insisted that Roberts was “acting in his personal capacity” and not speaking on behalf of the town.
Roberts claimed he wanted to speak with the Drawdys about the allegations against him, but was advised not to by an attorney because the Drawdys had already obtained legal counsel.
When a local attorney and fellow business owner suggested that the commission consider undergoing voluntary sensitivity training, Roberts rejected the idea.
“You know the most discriminated person sitting in this room?” Roberts reportedly said. “[They are] disliked by whites, Blacks, reds and yellows — [it’s] the fat people of this world.”
The public comment period and meeting ended without any resolution.
The Drawdys have since begun moving goods, furniture, and unsold inventory to a pet supply store they own in Gainesville.
They have set up a corner in their Gainesville store featuring items or mementos they call their “little Restless Mommas,” an homage to their now-shuttered Micanopy business.
Micanopy resident Carol Young told Alligator that she didn’t buy the commissioners’ excuse that the rumors and alleged targeting of the Drawdys was not a town issue.
“I think it is town business when you run people off,” she said.
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