Taco Haven has been in the news after allowing people on its property last week to promote a recall members of City Council who supported the recently passed non-discrimination ordinance (NDO).
That incident prompted a Yelp review by Michael Cepek, who had visited the restaurant with his girlfriend, hoping to enjoy a good meal. Instead, he was met by folks spreading false information about the city ordinance, such as predatory cross-dressing men invading female restrooms throughout the city.
It turns out the recall folks were invited to the restaurant and allowed to collect signatures.
This surprised many in the community, not only LGBT individuals who have frequented the restaurant, but anyone in San Antonio looking to enjoy a good breakfast taco.
Over the weekend, two approaches were taken to confront the issue and get answers. One was a Sunday morning protest scheduled by GetEQUAL TX, preceded by a phone conversation between Taco Haven owners and GetEQUAL TX activist Erin Jennings. The other was a discussion I had earlier that same morning with owners Jerry and Reggie Torres to see what really happened.
During my conversation with Jerry, it became clear he had no problem with LGBT individuals as customers, citing many from the neighborhood who would stop by his restaurant. He knew several by name and talked about their partners. When I asked Jerry about a statement expressing that support, he said his attorney, Allan Parker, would be issuing one later on, as they found out more.
That name should have rung a bell with me, but it didn’t at the time. A subsequent search of the Internet turned up only one attorney named Allan Parker, who works for The Justice Foundation, a conservative firm that believes in free markets, limited government, and religious liberty.
Parker also was the spokesperson for groups opposed to the passage of the non-discrimination ordinance, speaking on behalf of the groups at rallies at City Hall. Discovery of this intersection on Monday led many who were trying to continue support for the family to begin to question their motives.
Throughout the ordeal, the Torres family continued to mask their position, constantly claiming they accepted all individuals regardless of their orientation. However, when asked by Gilbert Garcia of the San Antonio Express-News on the move to retain Parker, the family rationalized the move as one of need.
“One member of the Torres family said they turned to Parker for representation at least partly because they didn’t see anyone else stepping forward to help them. Unfortunately, this move plays into the assumptions of both the restaurant’s defenders and detractors,” Garcia wrote in his column.
During the protests Sunday morning, Parker defended the restaurant’s right to express its option and allow civil discourse to occur in an interview with Ryan Loyd of Texas Public Radio.
“Just because you allow people to exercise their civil rights does not mean you’re a hater,” Parker said. “In fact, we need to allow each other to agree to disagree on these important issues and allow civil discourse to occur.”
With the diversity of Southtown, where Taco Haven is located, many from the community sought answers as to why the Torres family would allow people opposed to the NDO to attempt a recall of the district’s councilman on its property. Several business owners who supported the NDO sat down with family members to find out the real story.
What most were told was that this was being blown out of proportion and the family has no problem with LGBT patrons. When pressed about the recall petitioners, the most common response was that they were led to believe this was “to protect the children,” the misleading statement made by recall petitioners.
Many, including myself, kept a dialogue going with extended family members and, at a distance, the family itself. Answers from the family seemed cryptic but promising, as if there was an internal discussion going on about the right approach to take.
All of that changed today when a blog entry from a known conservative blogger, Sonja Harris, appeared on the right-wing site Texas GOP Vote. The blog entry, titled “The Destruction of the Traditional Family,” featured both Jerry and Reggie Torres in a photo and discussed the weekend’s events, attacking GetEQUAL TX for its protests.
According to Harris, “Jerry feels that they should have the right to decide what is allowed in their restaurant and that they should have the privilege of expressing their Christian views without retribution.” Torres went on to say that “no one should bully us into changing our views just to fit into society.”
With that blog entry it became very clear the Torres family’s real intention was to welcome LGBT business but oppose the community through causes, including inviting those causes on their business property. That’s when this failed any smell test of tolerance with those who have supported them up until today.
It’s a familiar story throughout the United States these days. Businesses have no problem taking money from individuals, yet turn around and use that money to oppose them on issues of social justice.
Now is the time to turn the light on this deception being played out by the Torres family on the community in Southtown and in San Antonio, as a whole. Just as the recall folks have been twisting the language of the NDO to coerce people and gather signatures, the Torres family have leveraged the desire for tolerance by a community to mask their intolerance of that same community.
I was duped by a desire to seek answers and look for good intentions. It was hard to accept that a business that has catered to diversity in the community for so long would turn around and fight that same community, especially with such a deceptive group as the recall effort.
Each reader can make his or her own choice about where you eat. I have chosen to not visit Taco Haven given the family’s chosen course of action. Of course, any boycott of Taco Haven will be viewed as an attack on the family’s free speech rights. In reality, the option of free speech goes both ways – you can express your opinions as a business any way you like, but I can also express my opinion of your views by choosing not to visit you.
Randy Bear is a 20-plus years San Antonio resident, transplanted from Little Rock to join the ranks of USAA in Information Technology. Over the last two decades, he’s been involved in a variety of civic and political activities, including work with San Antonio Sports, KLRN, Keep San Antonio Beautiful, and Fiesta San Antonio. Randy’s political life took root when several friends from Arkansas pulled him into the first Clinton presidential campaign. Since then, he’s been active in politics and government, including a brief period serving on the staff of former City Councilman Reed Williams.
This story has been republished, with permission, from Bear’s blog “Concerned Citizens” at www.concernedinsa.com.