The cupcake controversy

Sometimes, a cupcake is not just a cupcake.

Just Cookies, a 20-year-old local bakery nestled within the cavernous City Market in downtown Indianapolis, is coming under serious fire this week. Apparently, a gay student group at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) wanted to order cupcakes with a rainbow motif to serve at a National Coming Out Day event planned for Oct. 7. One of the owners of the bakery refused to fill the order citing moral objections to homosexuality, saying that it was a family-run business and he didn’t feel filling the order set a good example for his impressionable young daughters. (Um, I’d just like to mention that gay people have families, too, last time I checked…)

Now, if someone came in to Just Cookies and ordered several dozen rainbow-festooned cupcakes for their daughter’s birthday party or a Girl Scout convention, I’m going out on a limb and guessing the owner would have filled the order with no questions asked. So some rainbows are ok, but some aren’t, allegedly.

This situation has ignited a firestorm of both support and opposition within the local community. The mayor’s office is currently investigating to determine whether civil rights have been violated, and the bakery is in danger of losing its lease at the city-owned and managed public market. The Indianapolis Star’s online comments section is lit up like a Christmas tree with people arguing for and against the owner’s decision. A local radio station threw its own “Gay Cupcake Party” as a show of support for the local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

Is this making a mountain out of a cupcake? I think not. This whole issue got me really worked up, so I decided to sit down and really spend some time thinking about why it matters so much. (For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a straight, married mom, by the way.)

There are several issues at stake here. By some accounts, it looks like Just Cookies is attempting to backpedal; there are rumblings that the owners are now saying that the bakery simply doesn’t do special orders. The business’ web site clearly states that it DOES accept special orders, but doesn’t place any qualifications on its policy. Does it only take on special orders within a certain quantity limit? Is there a last-minute order stipulation? We just don’t know. There could be a valid argument that the small bakery was just not able to physically or logistically accommodate the order, had the owner not already publicly stated that he’d refused it on moral grounds. Sorry, buddy. Kinda shot yourself in the foot, there.

Just Cookies is a privately owned business, but it operates within the confines of a public facility (is this anything like a homeowners’ association? I’m just asking.). Therefore, do the owners have the right to refuse service to anyone at their own discretion, or are they subject to a larger set of rules and regulations laid down by the powers that manage City Market as a whole?

The most important and obvious question to be answered is of course:  has a case of discrimination occurred? It’s not like a gay customer came up to the counter to order a cup of coffee and was turned away simply for being gay, but does placing a special order fall under the same considerations? What would have happened if the student group was comprised of African Americans, Catholics, Muslims or women? What if a customer comes in drunk, belligerent and wanting a chocolate cupcake – is denying service justifiable then?

It could also be argued that by allowing the gay student group to place its order with Just Cookies, the bakery should be expected to fulfill orders for other groups the owners might deem morally objectionable as well. A more extreme hypothetical example – let’s say a White Supremacist group comes in and wants to place an order for cookies decorated with burning crosses. Many business owners would have a moral problem with this and refuse the order.

Certainly, rainbow cupcakes are a far cry from Swastika-shaped brownies, but is the message the same? If we’re asking the owners of the business to overlook their own personal values and prejudices, it goes to reason that they should be made to honor service for ALL customers, no matter how inflammatory or outrageous the request. If you want to stand up and argue that all people and all groups should be treated equally, take a minute and think about whether you’re REALLY prepared to practice what you preach. The very flipside of demanding service for a gay rights group is agreeing to respect the views of those that disagree. This is the reality, for better or worse, of our lovely Constitutional right to freedom of speech, and it’s a slippery slope at best.

I’m reminded of a great monologue Michael Douglas makes in the movie “The American President” that touches on this same idea:

“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’ You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”

Some people are arguing that a homosexual lifestyle is a choice. I really don’t see how that is a point in favor of Just Cookies. So what if I choose to wear a pair of red shoes and the owner doesn’t like them. Can he refuse my special order because of it? Of course not.

The support both for and against Just Cookies has been vocal, passionate and plenty heated. The owner’s decision has gained him some new customers who probably otherwise would never have patronized the bakery, but I daresay, the consequences have lost him a greater amount of business than they’ve garnered.

Here are my thoughts. If I were the owner of Just Cookies, I would have fulfilled the gay student group’s order without a second thought. I have no issue with homosexuality, and hope to raise my son with the values of peaceable tolerance and respect. If you’re gay, you’re not hurting anyone, and you’re not trying to force your lifestyle upon anyone who disagrees with you, you’re ok in my book. In fact, that’s pretty much my view for all people in general. I’m a live and let live type. That said, I will not support or sell a product to anyone or any group who insists on promoting a climate of hate, violence, exclusion and senseless killing. That’s what makes the difference for me personally. No one is going to tell me who those groups are or aren’t, or whether my views are right or wrong. It’s something I will decide for myself, thank you very much, but I can’t see how a collection of gay students promoting inclusion and acceptance would fall into the latter category. There is a world of difference between frosting some rainbow cupcakes and making 9/11 cookies depicting planes flying into the World Trade Center.

I own and operate my own small-scale catering business, and if I were asked, say, to prepare a dinner for a gang that hunts, skins and spit-roasts puppies, I would refuse. No one is going to convince me to do it, legal rights be damned. If this makes me a hypocrite, then so be it. I’ve already been accused of being a “simple-minded fool” in response to one of the online comments I left on the Star’s web site regarding this story. Maybe I am naive to believe that people can and should be kinder to and more accepting of each other instead of just putting up more barriers and creating even greater division in a world where too much dissonance exists already. Maybe writing this blog isn’t going to make one bit of difference in the grander scheme of things. I don’t care. The biggest changes in the world often start with one person saying what’s on his or her mind.

I can see how the owner of Just Cookies would feel justified in making the decision he did. Is he within his legal rights to refuse the order? Probably. Do I agree with his decision? Absolutely not. I think it’s extremely unfortunate and disheartening that the owner feels the way he does to the point of alienating the gay community, particularly when an alarming number of gay teens have committed suicide within the past week due to bullying and a lack of much-needed support.

I plan to vote with my feet, and my wallet, by never buying anything from Just Cookies again. Just my two cents. Is there a pot of gold to be had at the end of this rainbow? Guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.

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