by SAMMY PAYNE
Special to the Sounder
“We’re okay that you’re gay, but don’t throw it in our faces.”
These were the words, said David Ellertsen and Lee Horswill, that led them to remove their rainbow flag – a symbol expressing support for equality – from their new company Brown Bear Baking in Eastsound.
“This was a business decision,” Ellertsen said. “That and we wanted to be good neighbors and not ruffle any feathers.”
However, the decision to remove the flag caused an online storm after Michael Rivkin and Jeffri Coleman, of Crow Valley Pottery, penned a letter to the Islands’ Sounder lamenting the “outdated, bigoted labels” some people chose to use against the newcomers.
The letter attracted the most attention in Sounder online history with more than 100 responses from community members and more than 600 people “liking” the letter on the social networking site Facebook. The Sounder also penned an editorial on the topic entitled “Intolerance should not be tolerated.”
Coleman wrote the letter after hearing how Ellertsen and Horswill were approached by a messenger who said numerous people were complaining about the presence of the rainbow flag. The bakers were warned it may damage their business.
“It just really bothered us the way it was done,” Coleman said. “They are new here and what a terrible way to welcome them. If you don’t like it, just say you don’t like it. Don’t send someone. Unfortunately it was subversive and sneaky.”
Outraged locals have headed directly to Ellertsen and his fiancé Horswill at their bakery to show support.
“It has been overwhelming,” Ellertsen said. “Around 60 people have come in; at least one person everyday will come in and say ‘Put the flag up!’”
The letter has prompted businesses to unite and take a stand together by raising rainbow flags over Labor Day weekend.
Businesses taking part in this show of solidarity include: The Islands’ Sounder, Crow Valley Pottery, The Artworks and Orcas Arts.
Ellertsen said this flag represents much more than “gay pride.” It is a symbol of humanity and equality.
“This time it’s going up and it’s staying up,” Ellertsen said.
Kathy Wehle, a Pride Foundation and Out on Orcas member, said she appreciated the responses to the flag coming down and the support shown by the community.
“I do think there’s a lot of support for LGBT on Orcas,” Wehle said “Although it’s distressing to see this discrimination; it’s not surprising.”
Wehle pointed out that while Orcas Island had the highest show of support in the state for same sex marriages (74 percent voted yes), that still meant one in four people were against equality and said these statistics had some implications about the attitudes and values people hold in the community.
Wehle admitted feeling disheartened when hearing about the flag removal.
“God, aren’t we past this?” Wehle asked.
Dave Johnson flies a combination of the United States flag and a pride flag outside his home on Crescent Beach Drive.
“I’m bisexual and a strong believer in LGBT rights and the combination of both the flags seems to be in accordance with the basic freedoms we have in the United States,” Johnson said.
Three years ago Johnson was asked to take down his flag by a fellow islander. After refusing, the flag was stolen.
Johnson said the response to the letter was very “gratifying.”
“I encourage the owners to put the flag back up,” he said. “I think it would be instructive if the people who made those comments would come out and own those comments.”