Is It Okay For A Gay Business Owner To Refuse To Serve Anti-Abortion Activists?

The owner of a Seattle coffee house ejected a pro-life group that had been handing out graphic homophobic literature nearby.

America is in the middle of a debate on whether religious beliefs excuse discrimination against LGBT people—an upcoming Supreme Court case will decide whether a Christian baker can refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

But in Seattle, the question has arisen of whether a gay business owner had the right to refuse a group of customers based on their (admittedly odious) religious and political beliefs.

Abolish Human Abortion

On October 1, members of the pro-life group Abolish Human Abortion, went to Bedlam coffee shop in Belltown after handing out anti-abortion literature in the neighborhood. AHA members Caleb Head and Caytie Davis claim owner Ben Borgman forced them to leave shortly after they arrived, telling them “I’m gay—you have to leave.”

Davis says she asked if Borgman, 52, was denying them service, to which he replied “I am. Yeah.”

The flyer the group had been handing out depicted rainbow-colored hands drenched in blood, and made comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust.

Abolish Human Abortion

“Today the world is overrun by wickedness again and we’ve taken the symbol of God’s grace and twisted it into a symbol of pride and licentiousness,” it read in part.
“We are violent, abusive, sexually immoral and greedy. We profane marriage through divorce, homosexuality and adultery, and our children suffer the consequences.”

The leaflet also warns that God’s judgment against sin “will not tarry forever.”

Abolish Human Abortion

AHA members say they didn’t share any literature while they were in Bedlam but Borgman insisted, “I have a right to be offended.” He also claimed copies of the flyer were hidden around the cafe.

The two sides descended into an argument about tolerance, with Borgman reportedly asking activist Jonathan Sutherland, “If I go get my boyfriend and fuck him in the ass right here you’re going to tolerate that?” (Sutherland allegedly replied, “That would be your choice.”

“I don’t have to fucking tolerate this! Leave! All of you,” Borgman told the group. “Tell all your fucking friends, ’Don’t fucking come here.’” When members told Borgman Jesus could save him, he allegedly replied, “ I like ass. I’m not going to be saved by anything. I’d fuck Christ in the ass, okay? He’s hot.”

Ben Borgman/Facebook

In a Facebook post the following day, Borgman said the situation was taken out of context.

“In the end, it’s all about context,” the owner wrote. “Everything is context. Out of context a comment can serve any argument. Take for example the phrase ‘I will bring my boyfriend out here and f- him in the a—.’ out of context it could mean a slew of things. It’s delivery in this case was meant to shock and repulse the audience. Out of context it could be labeled a perversion, or a kink depending how you personally couch the subject. In context it was a response, a response to being shocked and repulsed. A revenge you could even call it, a weakness demonstrated in the typical, they hurt me, I will hurt them fashion.”

He added that the activists set him up.

“They were ready with that camera,” he insisted. “I was baptized Catholic… The God I knew, the Jesus I was taught about, would absolutely never ever print a poster with a hideous dead baby representation at what was clearly meant to insinuate at the hands of gays. Suffice to the say the poster was gross, and the text on the back? Holy cow, whoever wrote that is in a lot of pain. I spoke to them in their own language.”

If the AHA wasn’t actively proselytizing in the coffee shop, did Borgman have the right to turn them away? Share your perspective in the comment section below.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.