By Ray Ceo Jr. Edited by Lisa Schulman
Very early in my library career, I was supposed to do a story time about cowboys and riding a horse for a local Boy Scout troop. I was working at a small library in a very then-rural part of a fairly conservative suburb of Phoenix. There was a high school attached to this public library, in a joint effort that helped cut down the costs for both the school district and the city. This particular location was built precisely on the edge of the city and county lines. Literally across the street was a farm that smelled like dung all day and was technically in the next county over. And while the dairy farm was well and good, and there were actual hay bale-slinging, Wrangler-wearing cowboys and cowgirls right in our own backyard, in my county, even on the edge of my county in this not-yet-built-up rural oasis, real cowboys and cowgirls stayed on their dairy farms and us city folk drove into town to purchase our milk from Walmart.
But that didn’t mean that the parents of the Boy Scout Troop weren’t interested in their kids learning to become cowboys and riding horses.
I had just been promoted into the new position of Library Programmer; or Event Planner, really, and this Boy Scout Troop was supposed to come into the library, get a tour from yours truly, as well as a watered down version of Storytime, and then they were to leave with library cards and books about what it would be like to be a cowboy or ride a horse.
Now, I had never done a Storytime at that point my career. And frankly, I didn’t even know you could or would, or even should, provide third-graders with a Storytime. I figured children were able to read for themselves by the third grade. Can’t they find books themselves? I would later discover, boy was I wrong!
When my boss, a lady to this day I consider to be one of the best supervisors I ever had, asked me if I could do this as I was really the only one available, I think she knew my hesitation considering the demographic. I also think she respected me when I asked for some time to think about it. I didn’t say no, I didn’t say yes, I said I needed to evaluate my own moral compass and consider it.
At first, unsurprisingly, my gut told me to run for the hills. Not only had I never done a Storytime before, but I had real philosophical problems and moral objections with the teachings of the Boy Scout organization itself. As a gay man, I wondered if I could in fact do a Storytime for an organization that believed I was “less than,” or that I somehow didn’t deserve equal access to their organization, just because I’d rather ride a cowboy than a horse. I wondered if it made sense for me to be the one to provide this Storytime, and I further wondered if they would even appreciate it, or if they’d outright object to me being the one to fulfill this particular part of their request.
The Boy Scouts, for what it’s worth, had a long history of keeping gay people like me out of their organization. It was in the year 2000 that the United States Supreme Court found in their favor to reject gays, because the Boy Scouts is a private organization and could, if they so choose, create their own bylaws and policies and conduct their private social club on whatever grounds or by whichever code of ethics they determined to be right for them.
Now, I am a gay man, for those of you who didn’t know this. And I have been very vocal my entire life about equal rights and equal access. So, even then, at just 19 years old, I was very well aware of the policy that the Boy Scouts had in full force implemented.
But what most people do not know is that I do not particularly disagree with the Supreme Court decision of not allowing gay men to run their troops. I think it’s a pathetic position for the Boy Scouts to take. And I, myself, do not want to be a part of the Boy Scouts because of this. But I often wonder at what point we compromise free speech in order to adhere to equal rights and equal access.
I have belonged to various gay organizations over the years and I know that we have staunchly rejected bigots from hanging out and participating in our organizations and events, especially when they were working against our mission. I know that I have been to many Democrat or liberal events, and Republicans have been literally escorted out of events including the national Human Rights Campaign National Gala. How is it that they do not have an equal rights or equal access to these events or our own organizations, yet we can demand that they let us into their events or their organizations?
I cannot with good faith say that I want them to be able to participate in our events or our organizations, and so this leads me to wonder why so many LGBT people are upset about a bigoted business being allowed under the Supreme Court’s “Brush and Nib Studios” Case, to reject making custom artwork or custom invitations for a gay couple’s wedding. For one thing the gay community is not without plenty of artists and custom invitation creators. In fact, I would probably say that the gay community is well saturated with them. So why on earth would we need to go to a bigoted company and ask them to create these custom invitations?
I also know that we live in a free-market based economy, and that’s one of the best things about our country! If Jim won’t sell you a car at a price you like, you can go see Joanne, who will and will throw in the bells and whistles you always wanted on top of it.
While I agree that bigotry is at play here, and I do believe that there is room for discrimination, this company simply doesn’t want to create custom artwork for a couple they do not believe should have the right to get married. As an artist I wouldn’t want to be forced to have to create custom artwork for a couple that are doing things I do not approve of. I sure as hell don’t want to start working for Donald Trump is a speech writer (actually, I, in fact, would love to be his speech writer because someone needs to shape that man’s speech patterns into an eloquent sequence that doesn’t drive me insane).
When it comes to discrimination, there is a difference between a private company that has its own ethics and its own standards to bear, and a public entity like the government enforcing discrimination on society. I cannot with good faith back protests or opposition to a decision that would force someone to do something that they don’t want to do. They are not representatives of the government and we are not paying their salaries, and so we should not be able to write into stone what actions they can and cannot take when it comes to their business.
They will lose a huge demographic of business because frankly, between the generation that is getting divorced, and the generation that grew up from divorced parents, the only people really getting married, are us gays; we’re the ones still dumb enough to do it. (Believe me!).
This doesn’t sound like discrimination to me, this sounds like someone who is an artist, turning down a job. Artists do this all the time. I cannot tell you how many straight guy photographers have declined taking pictures of me naked for Grindr. And I know plenty of gay photographers who have rejected taking pictures of Mormon wedding ceremonies or Catholic baptisms.
So, I reject this notion that it’s discrimination. It mostly sounds like an artist not wanting work. Believe me, we have plenty of artists in the gay bunch and I’m sure any number of them would provide better quality work than a couple of bigoted women who are afraid of making gay wedding invitations.
That’s their decision.
After much discussion with my mentor and considering my personal values, I had decided to go ahead and provide the Boy Scout Troop with the special cowboy Storytime. Not only did I feel obligated, bound by library ethics of equal access, but I also felt that there would be at least one gay kid who needed to see me and know it would be okay.
But before the day had rolled around, I had been transferred to another library in my library system that was in the liberal part of the city and significantly closer to my college dorm. There, I would later amass a very strong and faithful group of Storytime kids and their fathers, all of whom appreciated that their kids could see someone like me be goofy and smile and read fun stories about cowboys… and rainbows.