Tea shop owners in Wisconsin are using their right to free speech to refuse service to gay customers and are even threatening to take legal action against a transgender man who was ordered to remove his dress.
The owners of the Red River Tea Shop in the small town of Red River in southwest Wisconsin say they don’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are only interested in providing a friendly environment for customers.
They say they’re not against homosexuals, but that their employees are required to respect customers’ right to choose.
“I do believe that we should all be treated equally under the law and that we shouldn’t be treated differently,” owner Bill Lutz said.
“I don’t feel that our employees should be forced to do anything that they believe violates our business or the beliefs of our customers.
I think it’s a really great idea to give everyone equal opportunity to have a friendly and respectful experience.”
Lutz said the owners have been approached by at least one person who wants to take the case to court.
The restaurant has been operating since 2011 and has attracted more than 400 customers.
The Red River owners say they’ve received more than 100 complaints in the past year from customers who say they were denied service or harassed.
Lutz says he’s received at least 20 calls in the last week from people who said they had been harassed or mistreated by the restaurant.
He says they’ve also received threatening phone calls and emails from other businesses who said their business had been threatened with legal action if they didn’t comply.
Lutsl says he has received threatening messages and emails.
“It’s unfortunate, it’s upsetting,” he said.
But he believes he’s doing his job and his customers’ business a favor.
“There’s no reason to feel uncomfortable and it’s just a little bit embarrassing when you get a phone call and it turns out to be from a government official or a police officer,” Luts, whose family owns the restaurant, said.
Luts said the owner of a nearby business, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, was threatened with a lawsuit if he didn’t stop refusing service to same-sex couples.
He said the threats included a threat to take a “very strong” police officer to court, as well as a threat that if he doesn’t shut the shop down the police would arrest him.
The owner of Red Rivers Tea Shop said the employees are welcome to use their right of free speech.