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Morris restaurant gets big show of support

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MORRIS -- Two gay restaurant owners in Morris may have been served a heaping helping of bigotry, but in the end they received their just desserts.

At least, that’s the conclusion of several LGBT activists who travelled from Winnipeg on Saturday to the eatery as a show of support.

"Although something awful happened," offered Chad Smith, executive director of the Rainbow Resource Centre, "they’re going to have some really great memories."

Smith, along with partner Erwin Maguire and friend Harrison Oakes, were part of a full house at the Pots N Hands Restaurant in the early afternoon on Saturday. A few dozen members of the Winnipeg GLBT community had planned to head south to Morris over the course of the day.

Even though the restaurant owners have decided to close their operation on April 13 – stemming from now well-publicized incidents involving anti-gay slurs hurled their way – Harrison said it was important to show symbolic support.

"Bullying isn’t allowed to go on," he said. "You can’t be a spectator. You have to stand up and you have to do something."

In fact, the restaurant has been largely filled with locals since the controversy made national headlines after the story broke in the Free Press on Tuesday. Even on Saturday, the majority of the customers were Morris-area residents – some of whom had to be turned away because the restaurant was full.

One Morris resident who has frequented Pots N Hands during the diner’s four-month existence said the swell of support gave her mixed emotions. "It’s too little, too late," said Wendy, who did not want to give her last name. "Morris doesn’t look too good now, does it? But it only takes one or two people to wreck it for everybody else. I have begged them (the owners) to stay but they won’t listen."

Indeed, both the local Chamber of Commerce president and Morris Mayor Gavin van der Linde have urged owner/chef Dave Claringbould and his partner Matt (who didn’t wish to give his last name) to stay the course. But to no avail.

"We’re not saying ‘Never again’," Matt told the Free Press on Saturday. "We’re just saying, ‘Not now’. We need some time to just step back and open with a clean slate and a fresh start."

Matt said the couple have been approached to start up a restaurant in Winnipeg. "We’ve had a few offers," he said.

Matt reiterated the owner’s stance that they never sought publicity, much less the avalanche of negative press the community has received since their decision to close – followed by a couple of homophobic quotes from a local resident and rival restaurant owner that went viral.

What followed, however, was an outpouring of support from both local residents and gay activists. Matt called the response "overwhelming."

"It’s been an experience that I’m thankful is happening because it shows that people need to accept others for who they are," he said, in between waiting tables. "It’s been eye-opening for everyone. I feel that in time things will improve."

Oakes said he’s noticed an increase in anti-gay incidents since the introduction of the Selinger government’s anti-bullying Bill 18.

"It seem like a lot of homophobia has been creeping out of the woodwork," Oakes said, referring to an incident this week in Winnipeg where a man found the word "HOMO" had been spray painted on the front of his home on Easter Sunday. "We’re not just going to put up with it and keep quiet."


Updated on Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:00 PM CDT: edit to details of spray paint victim.

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