A controversial speaker planned for a Tacoma Republican club’s monthly meeting sent activists into action, forcing the political group to three different restaurants Monday evening.
The series of events showed how quickly community activists can organize over social media and how easily businesses can unwittingly become part of a controversy.
The event, “Transgenderism and Our Children,” was scheduled for Monday evening at Knapp’s Restaurant. It was hosted by the 27th District Republican Virginia Taylor Club as part of its monthly meeting at the restaurant.
The speaker, Lynn Meagher, is a local activist and speaker widely considered to be a foe by the transgender community.
Meagher has had two adult children transition to opposite genders, according to a story in The Christian Post. She refers to the transgender community as a cult. “My relationship with my kids is about as bad as it can get,” Meagher said in the story.Dixie Mooney is a board member with Tacoma’s Rainbow Center, which describes itself as an advocate group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied (LGBTQA) community.“The community rose up in opposition to this hate-based, uneducated platform,” Mooney told The News Tribune. “It wasn’t the transgender community. It was the community at large. It was our allies that stood up and said, no, this isn’t going to happen.”Martin Merterns, the Republican club’s president, defended the choice of Meagher as speaker.
“We don’t think it’s hateful to have a discussion about whether life altering medical treatments should be offered to children,” he said in a written statement to The News Tribune.
Word of the Monday night meeting began to spread over the weekend on social media.
Knapp’s management became aware of it Monday morning, said Stephanie Anderson, the area coordinator for Sound Restaurant Family — Knapp’s owner.
“We were marked (on social media) as hosting the event, which we have nothing to do with,” Anderson said.
The Republican group has been holding meetings at Knapp’s for several years, Anderson said. The restaurant doesn’t monitor nor is it involved in the club’s subject matter, she said.
“The fallout online led to people making threats against the restaurant, which is kind of terrifying,” Anderson said, including burning the restaurant down. “We realized very quickly this is a very big deal.”
Knapp’s wanted nothing to do with any of it, she said.
“Just like any restaurant, we want to be a community gathering place where you don’t have to be judged based on your sex or your religion or your gender or your political affiliation,” Anderson said.
Meagher visited Knapp’s on Monday, Merterns said, to introduce herself and her subject. Eventually, the Republican club volunteered to cancel Meagher’s talk.
“The public did not feel that was enough,” Anderson said. “So, we then asked that they cancel the meeting simply because we didn’t want to put anyone at risk and be in the middle of this controversy.”
While Meagher was in the restaurant, Tacoma resident Leah Smillie was also meeting with Knapp’s management. Smillie wanted the restaurant to know who Meagher was. If they decided to cancel the event, she could help spread the word.
“She’s put a lot of effort into demonizing (the transgender) community, which is already struggling” Smillie said of Meagher. “Her efforts at activism in that realm have real repercussions for people just trying to live their lives.”
Smillie doesn’t deny Meagher’s right to speak. But, Smillie said, she was disappointed that a local business was providing a forum for her. She was exercising her right to speech as well, she said.
“That might mean people who used to patronize and appreciate that spot in the middle of our community might not be doing so anymore,” Smillie said.
Late Monday, the Republican club attempted to move the event to a Round Table pizza restaurant. Activists showed up there, Meterns said. The pizza parlor declined to host the event.
Eventually, the Republican group ended up at Joeseppi’s Italian Ristorante on North Pearl Street, according to Joeseppi owner Joe Stortini. Stortini, a former Democratic state senator, was familiar with the Republican group.
“I got a phone call. They wanted to know if the banquet room was open. I said yes,” Stortini said. “I had no idea what the subject was. I didn’t ask, and they didn’t tell me.”
A few minutes later, about 15 to 20 people from the Republican club showed up, he said.
“As they were sitting down, a group of men and women — young people — who I found out were following them from one restaurant to the next restaurant to here, showed up,” Stortini said.
The activist group was peaceful, he said.
“They stayed outside the whole time,” Stortini said.
Stortini and his son, who was also working at the restaurant, talked to the protesters. They later issued a statement against discrimination, which Stortini read for The News Tribune.
“We believe the LGBTQ community should live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights,” it read in part. “Joeseppi’s reserves the right to refuse service to any organization or groups who demonstrate hate.”
The Republicans continued the meeting while the protesters stayed outside. Meagher gave her talk.
“There was no confrontation between the groups,” Stortini said. “The whole thing caught us by surprise.”
Mertens said his group felt intimidated by the protesters’ behavior.
“It appears the wrong people are being accused of hate,” Mertens said.
The fallout from Monday appears to be long-lasting. Knapp’s will no longer be hosting the Republican group, Anderson said.
“Which is unfortunate,” Anderson said. “They’ve been loyal customers for a long time. But they certainly threw us into a political mess, which we had no knowledge of and no willingness to be a part of.”
For Mooney, the rapidity at which the community rallied to the defense of transgender people was heartening.
“I feel supported as a transgender person that my allies did this,” Mooney said. “I didn’t have to do this.”
Mooney said she isn’t opposed to Meagher airing her views but she’d like it done in a public forum, with a countering view. And she’s not anti-Republican.
“We’ve got to have the Republicans on our side, too,” Mooney said.
Mooney denied any threats or suggestions of violence from the LGBTQ community.
“We are about love, acceptance, education and compassion,” she said.
Activists on Facebook posted messages of support for all the involved restaurants following Monday night’s events.
Smillie was at Knapp’s herself Wednesday evening, celebrating the holiday with friends.