A few business owners in Micanopy say they are being targeted and discriminated against by town officials and some locals for showing support for the LGBTQ community.
One of the businesses has since closed up shop, citing concerns for their safety.
In a Jan. 14 Facebook post, the store owners of the antique shop Restless Mommas announced they closed their doors in Micanopy. Though no specific threat was mentioned, the store − owned by a same-sex couple − has alluded to being run out of town for anti-LGBTQ views from some area residents.
"It was very frightening for a minute there," the page posted to one commenter.
"We are so sad about it ... but we can’t risk our safety."
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The concerns stem from a code enforcement letter that was sent to the store, telling the owners to remove a pride flag on the side of their building that first went up in June. Town officials say the flag violates the local land development code, which prevents "pennant flags" from being flown.
But it's not the only business to receive the letter.Melissa Bambrick, who manages Lost Ark Antiques, said she put up a rainbow-colored flag that read "Hate Has No Home Here." She said the letter came to her in late November, soon after her flag went up.
“I laughed,” Bambrick said. “I sent them a harsh email stating you wouldn’t be sending me this letter for an open flag or a welcome flag because all my flags have been waving since October when we reopened the shop. The only flag that was different was our 'no hate' flag."
Locals point to Micanopy commissioner
Bambrick and others are pointing the blame at Micanopy Commissioner Mike Roberts, who they say has made several anti-LGBTQ statements in the past and is using his political office for gain to reflect his personal views.
It doesn't take long to find a flurry of posts on Roberts' Facebook where he shares his views on those in the LGBTQ community.
He has praised Chick-fil-A for its stance on same-sex marriage, calling it an "abomination." He also wrote that "being Homosexual is a sin. Sin will take you to the pits of hell."
In May 2013, when the Boy Scouts of America ended its century-long ban on openly gay members, he said it would be the "end" of the program.
"Scouting in America died May 23, 2013," he wrote, the day the scouts voted on the issue.
When asked by the Gainesville Sun over email for comment on the situation with Restless Mommas, Roberts unwarrantedly said he couldn't comment on an "anonymous social media post," signaling that he was aware of the shop owners' Facebook post.
"I have always lived my life where all races and ethnicities are respected and appreciated," the mayor pro-tem wrote to The Sun. "The town of Micanopy has and continues to be a welcoming community to all.”
Supporters of the LGBTQ community, however, don't see it that way.
"Anybody that displays anything that Mike doesn't like, Mike's gonna go after," Bambrick said. "And he uses the town for his own political gain, like his own kind of agenda."
Those feelings of animosity recently spilled over into a Jan. 10 town commission meeting, where locals defended the store owners who weren't in attendance. Some also noted how locals displaying Trump flags weren't cited.
“I’m hugging these women because they’re leaving, because they’re terrified but they were discriminated by a commissioner that’s sitting here right now … I’m horrified,” said Micanopy resident Deborah Hart.
Roberts argued that the women were not discriminated against “nor were they picked on or made fun of.” At one point during the meeting, he said that “the most discriminated people are fat people.”
He said the issue appeared to start when he and his wife met with a woman who inquired whether he knew the owners of Restless Mommas. He asked her to clarify if she meant the "two lesbians who bought a business downtown."
Commissioner Jiana Williams, who sounded surprised to learn about the series of events, said it was disheartening to hear why the business owners left town.
“I do see where singling out a person’s sexual preference could be considered," she said. "I believe as a counselor on a board, we do have to be careful of how we describe people, how we put our personal notions, however we may feel, because we represent the town."
Restless Mommas' owners also announced on Facebook to patrons that they will open a new shop in Gainesville soon. They said they are in discussions to take legal action and will be represented by attorney Holiday Hunt Russell.
Gershon Harrell is an education reporter at The Gainesville Sun. He can be reached by phone at (352)338-3166, by email at Gharrell@gannett.com or on Twitter at @GershonReports.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: LGBTQ business owners close Micanopy store due to safety concerns