Chants of “discrimination has got to go” rang out in the streets of Hoquiam Saturday morning as about 20 Harborites gathered to protest near the Backstage Cafe.
Jen Gillies-Alvarez of Hoquiam organized the protest in response to a comment made by cafe owner Luis Mestas in a June 4 article published by The Daily World. Mestas identified himself as a Christian, and said he hopes to host family-friendly events at his new restaurant. “We want to hold a couples night where people can celebrate their marriages,” Mestas said. “Traditional marriages between a man and a woman — the way God intended.”
The remark was met with outrage from many locals who see it as a clear rebuke of same-sex couples. And for Gillies-Alvarez, Mestas’ comment was personal.
“When you’re giving an interview for the paper like that, you’re making a statement about your beliefs and values,” Gillies-Alvarez said. “And for an openly gay woman who is living here on the Harbor, raising two kids and married, it’s hurtful.”
“That hit deep, that really hit deep,” she added.
Mestas said he wouldn’t show any animosity toward the protesters, and that they were all welcome in his restaurant. Backstage Cafe employees posted several messages on Facebook Wednesday that said Mestas’ comments were taken out of context and that everyone is welcome at the cafe. The messages have since been removed.
“They can protest; that’s life,” Mestas said. “People are entitled to do what they want.”
Jeremy Vaughn of Hoquiam said he was excited to see a new business open in his town — especially one that emphasized a healthy lifestyle. But after reading Mestas’ comment, he decided he won’t be a Backstage Cafe customer.
“When I started reading the article, I was wondering what the big deal was,” Vaughn said. “I was thinking it sounded like a great place to eat. I was excited for a new business on the Harbor because I was born here. But then I saw that line and I was done.”
Mestas’ comments bring up bad memories about Gillies-Alvarez’s struggle for acceptance in Grays Harbor. She recalls being beat up because of her sexuality in 1994.
“The guy jumped me in downtown Aberdeen because I was holding a girl’s hand,” Gillies-Alvarez said.” He broke my left wrist, my elbow and my clavicle. When I was laying there in the hospital, I told myself, ‘No one is ever going to know I’m gay.’”
Since then, Gillies-Alvarez has come to terms with her identity. She married Sarah Gillies-Alvarez in December, 2012 shortly after Washington voters approved Referendum 74, a measure legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. The couple has two children: Leif, 13, and Cassidy, 10.
She is an adviser for the Gay Straight Alliance at Grays Harbor College and gives anti-bullying presentations locally and nationally.
“I’m obviously very excited, very proud that people are so quick to defend each other,” Gillies-Alvarez said.