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A Taco House Divided?


Over the weekend, controversy erupted at one of Southtown’s most popular restaurants.

While grabbing lunch at Taco Haven last Friday, patron Michael Cepek spotted activists outside who were seeking to collect signatures for the ongoing effort to oust council members supportive of the city’s recently passed LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, a measure that grants gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents equal protections. The table set up at the entrance calling for the recall of District 1 council member Diego Bernal, who authored the NDO, and Mayor Julian Castro is part of the citywide push by anti-LGBT residents to get back at elected officials who voted for the ordinance's passage. That, coupled with a chalkboard at the restaurant bar advertising “STRAIGHT” shots incited the self-proclaimed long-time fan of the neighborhood institution.

So, Cepek took to Yelp to sound off about the incident. (Several other people had taken to Yelp to express their disgust over the weekend, but the site has since deleted most of these "vigilante" posts which go against the site's Content Guidelines).

“It's one thing for a business owner to keep their political opinions to themselves--it's another thing to shove them in the face of all the business's customers,” he wrote on the Internet review site.

Cepek, who claims the activists were “invited” by the establishment, writes that he confronted the manager who said he, “didn't want men dressing up as women and going into girls' bathrooms.” Since the post, gay rights supporters headed to Taco Haven to protest and LGBT advocacy group, GetEQUALTX has called for all-out boycott of the family-owned restaurant.

On Monday, an owner of the eatery told the Current they are planning to release a public statement in order to clarify the “misinformation." In the meantime, varying accounts of what was said by the establishment have surfaced.

Erin Susan Jennings, a member of GetEqual, says she contacted Reggie Torres, one of the 12 owners of Taco Haven. Jennings says he didn’t seem opposed to the anti-NDO activists. While not explicitly in support of the removal of Bernal and Castro, Torres appeared fine with allowing the activists to carry on.

“He told me, as a Catholic and a Christian, I have no interest in telling them they needed to leave or what they were doing was wrong, that God will take care of it.”

Jennings says that by not forcing them to stop their recall activity, the restaurant owners are implicitly supporting anti-LGBT efforts.

“The restaurant hasn’t condemned them. They consider them customers and friends that are still welcome there,” says Jennings. “That is not the kind of message they should be sending. They owe an apology to the LGBT community for giving the impression of support.”

However, Bernal says after communicating with the Torres family, it appears the situation may amount to a misunderstanding. He says the activists misled the owners, who weren’t aware the anti-NDOers were going to petition for a recall. Instead, they were only told they would be handing out church-related literature.

If it wasn’t a misunderstanding, the conflicting reports point to the possibility of a house divided. Considering the local restaurant has a dozen owners– meaning a dozen opinions and a dozen perspectives– some family members could simply be more tolerant than others, leading to the confusion. Local politics blogger, Randy Bear, talked to members of the Torres family after the debacle and says that while some were open and accepting of the LGBT community, perhaps not all of them share the same viewpoint.

While a clear account of the family’s intentions awaits, the owners have given reason for the LGBT community to continue their criticism. Hired on to represent the establishment is local attorney Allan Parker, according to Texas Public Radio. If the family is hoping to distance themselves from the NDO controversy, Parker was probably not the best choice. As a lawyer for the Justice Foundation, a conservative legal group, Parker pitted himself in the middle of the debate, decrying the NDO at anti-LGBT rallies in the lead up to the vote and testifying against domestic partner benefits in 2011. In fact, Parker is no stranger to controversy, LGBT or otherwise, having served as the lead legal counsel for Norma McCorvey– the “Jane Roe” of landmark abortion rights U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade.

In the meantime, LGBT supporters are looking elsewhere for a taco fix.

Current Food Editor Jessica Elizarraras contributed reporting. 

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