In a dramatic, closed door lunch meeting, the owner of a renowned Mexican eatery in Hollywood expressed regret in her decision to donate $100 to the “Yes on Prop 8″ campaign, but her remarks before a group of about 60 members of Los Angeles’ LGBT community fell short of an outright personal apology.
“I’m sick of heart that I’ve offended anyone in the gay community,” said Marjorie Christofferson, co-owner of El Coyote Mexican Cafe for 17 years. “I have had, and do have family, friends, and people I work with of course who are gay…and you are treasured people to me.”
The tall, frail Christofferson stood in the center of the group. She appeared to be shaking during her prepared remarks which lasted about 3 minutes. Her daughters flanked her to prevent her from fainting, according to a restaurant employee. At several points during her speech, Christofferson simply became too emotional to continue.
El Coyote has become the latest casualty in the local outburst against the passage of Proposition 8, an anti-marriage amendment to the California State Constitution. Dozens of e-mails and websites, including the popular online local guide, Yelp.com, have urged boycotting the legendary cafe in recent days.
Christofferson, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, insisted that her donation was personal, and reflected her religious faith.
“I’ve been a member of the Mormon Church all my life,” she said. “This was a personal donation. In like fashion, any employee here would be free to donate, worship or support anything of their personal choosing. Over the years, El Coyote has financially supported many charities and thousands of dollars most particularly have been given to the gay interests and charities. The restaurant does not support any political group.”
In the only question taken by Ms. Christofferson after her remarks, and before those gathered, I asked her directly if she would personally make an equal donation to the campaigns to repeal Proposition 8.
“I cannot change a lifetime of faith,” she said.
Moments later, the same group which had been invited for lunch and margaritas grew increasingly verbal, apparently reacting to the lack of a direct apology from Ms. Christofferson, and she left the building in tears. The group continued to meet for another 30 minutes, before dispersing for what appeared to be a looming boycott. One demonstrator was already shouting outside.
Still, there were some dissenting voices in the room. One woman compared the angry gathering to Nazi Germany, when Hitler’s military singled out individual Jews in a witch hunt for their religious beliefs. “Why are we singling out one restaurant?” the woman asked. “Are you ready to go up against every single restaurant in the city?”
Should the gay community boycott El Coyote?
Openly-gay restaurant manager Billy Schoeppner, announced that El Coyote would make two $5,000 contributions, each to the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund. He also asked those gathered to suggest any possible or practical ways the legendary establishment could avert a full-on boycott and PR war by the Los Angeles LGBT community.
Another manager, Arnaldo Archila, outrightly denounced Ms. Christofferson in a forceful statement.
“We don’t share her views as the management,” said Mr. Archila, a native of El Salvador. “They don’t press us to do anything that we don’t want to do, and we never talk about politics or religion. I don’t understand why we got connected to something going on at the top.”
Other restaurant employees also spoke, including a waitress who tearfully worried what would happen to the 89 families that receive some financial support from El Coyote if a boycott were to occur.
Mr. Schoeppner told me privately that in addition to making contributions to the aforementioned charities, that the restaurant was planning to take out full page advertisements in the LA Weekly and Frontiers Newsmagzine to avert a boycott.
“I understand boycotts and protests have been planned. Let me personally take the responsibility for your pain and anger,” said Christoffsen. “El Coyote is no part of what I have done. The only people you will truly hurt are the hundreds of families of mixed origins and sexual diversity who rely on El Coyote to feed their families.”
No cameras were permitted in the rear dining room where the meeting was being held, to the chagrin of some bloggers. A demonstration was set for Thursday night.