Brotherton: Signs of the times

This afternoon, the City of Lynn will raise its Rainbow flag in support of North Shore Pride Week. Let’s hope it goes more smoothly than what transpired at Bonefish Harry’s in Beverly when the restaurant hung a Gay Pride flag outside its front door earlier this month.

In case you missed it, the restaurant’s owner received a letter from a customer who relayed his disappointment, stating “We will not be patronizing your eating place again because you have publicly chosen to support … sexual behavior that half of America declares immoral.”

The owner fired back, posting a copy of the letter on the restaurant’s Facebook page and announcing “We consider this letter an attempt to bully us to remove our flag and to slander our business. We will not stand for this type of behavior and will never give in to these types of unaccepting bigoted people. We will always stand side by side with everyone in our community! We will continue to fly this flag and we are proud to show our support for all of our community members.”

Well, let’s just say the post has generated more heat than the jalapeño beer cheese on Bonefish Harry’s Totchos appetiser. The post has 16,000 likes, has been shared 6,300 times and has triggered thousands of comments.

When I first saw it, I wondered whether it was wise to not black out the letter writer’s name. Some  attacked the guy, Owen Donaldson of Beverly, but many more praised the restaurant’s policy. Keeping the author anonymous became a moot point when news broke that there was no Owen Donaldson living in Beverly. Perhaps he or she used a fake name. No matter, it ignited a firestorm from skeptics accusing the restaurant of “pulling a Jussie Smollett” and posting a phony letter designed to boost business.

The owner vehemently denies this. “We 100% did not write this letter or know who did,” he stated in a later post.

Most folks sided with Harry’s, pledging love for the restaurant and its policy of acceptance and inclusivity. Thousands of comments flooded social media. Most were similar to “I have never been to Bonefish Harry’s, but now I will make a specific trip there,” “I’ve never eaten in your restaurant, but I sure will now!!!! Thank you!” and “Acceptance, support and tacos. I like your style.”

It reminds me of the mother in the holiday film “Miracle on 34th Street” who vows to shop more at Macy’s after that store’s Santa suggested she go to Gimbels to buy a hard-to-find item. When many other frazzled parents followed suit, it turned into a goodwill bonanza for the retailer.

Harry’s has now partnered with North Shore Alliance of GLBTQ Youth for a couple of fundraisers for the group this summer. Rainbow tie-dyed T-shirts will be sold at its restaurants in Beverly and on Lewis Street in Lynn, with proceeds benefiting the organization. Bravo!

Meanwhile, earlier this month in Southbridge, one resident offended neighbors and countless others by flying a Nazi Germany flag on his property. It might have been in bad taste, but he has the right to fly any flag he wants by law. He eventually took down the Nazi flag and replaced it with a Confederate flag bearing the message “Don’t Tread on Me.” Must be signs of the times.

The debate rages over whether statues of Confederate heroes should be removed from public spaces in the Southern United States, as many have been. Is this re-righting history or choosing to ignore parts of our history that are deemed offensive and might incite violence in modern-day America? I think removing the monuments is wrong, but I don’t have white supremicists marching through my town, spitting out racial and ethnic slurs and itching for a fight. Are we erasing history? Should we erase history? If the next generation doesn’t learn about the unpleasant past. are we doomed to repeat it?

The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the freedom of speech. Whether it’s a restaurant flying a Rainbow flag or a resident flying a Nazi Germany flag, they have the right to display them. Thank heavens. We also have the right to not patronize the restaurant and the right to speak out when the beliefs of others infuriate us. That’s part of what makes America great, and always has.

Me? Well, I might just walk to Lynn City Hall today and cheer the raising of the Rainbow flag, and then mosey up Lewis Street to check out Bonefish Harry’s and raise a toast to its support of basic human rights.

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