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Bakery protests anything but sweet

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Supporters of same-sex marriage demonstrate near Sweet Cakes by Melissa on Saturday, Feb. 8.

A divided crowd of roughly 60 took over the corner of Main Avenue and Division Street on Saturday, Feb. 9, to either boycott or support Sweet Cakes by Melissa, the Gresham bakery that recently refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Carrying signs that read, “Make love and cake, not all that hate,” and “Let them eat cake!” gay-rights protesters from Gresham and Portland garnered honks from passing cars as they shook homemade maracas and handed out treats supplied by Cupcake Jones, a Portland bakery that supported the demonstration.

“We want to make a statement that business owners have the right to refuse service to anyone, but when that refusal is based on sexual orientation, that’s a crime,” said Rob Cochran, a protester from Portland. “You can’t discriminate in Oregon without there being consequences.”

As the afternoon progressed, a handful of Sweet Cakes supporters gathered a few yards away with signs promoting the bakery’s beliefs and freedom of religion.

“This is America,” said Charlene Rodriguez of Clackamas. “They can believe what they want to believe, but they shouldn’t hate others for believing what they believe.”by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Sweet Cakes by Melissa continued to serve a drove of customers despite the protest outside the bakery on Saturday.

Meanwhile, business continued to boom for Sweet Cakes by Melissa, as the shop was filled with customers who patiently endured long waits for pastries. Sweet Cakes owners, Aaron and Melissa Klein, tried to keep up with the high demand, and by 2 p.m. — still three hours from close — Aaron said this would likely be his most profitable day during an unusually busy week.

Despite differing beliefs, the Kleins responded calmly to the protesters and even offered to buy them lunch.

“They have their right,” Aaron said. “They’re more than welcome to go out there. They’re not impeding my business. They’re not harassing Melissa or I or any of our staff. It’s fine.”

As the day progressed, tension led to hostility.

Two elderly Christian women, who asked to remain nameless, walked only feet from gay-rights protesters, while eating Sweet Cakes cupcakes, hoping their actions would say what their mouths full of frosting could not.

“I simply do not understand the gay community,” one woman said. “I don’t condone it, and that’s my choice.”

Despite droves of support for the bakery, Melanie Davis, publisher of Proud Queer Monthly, said the protesting reminded her of other historic events.

“It took me back to the essence of our civil rights movement in denying service to all our brothers and sisters who have fought for the right to equality and the right to be served properly in establishments doing business in our country,” Davis said.

“There’s definitely a solidarity and strength in numbers right now,” Davis said. “It’s bringing more and more light to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and allied businesses. So often people assume the community is in the city core, but we’re everywhere.”

Jaimye-Lyn Carruth, a Sweet Cakes protester from Gresham, called the bakery owners “insidious” for trampling on the rights of other people.

“I’m out here today exercising my right to free speech because I do not support bigotry, I don’t support intolerance and I don’t support hatred,” she said.

The protest reached its boiling point when a man — who goes by the name “Preacher Ray” — delivered an impromptu sermon to a crowd, which included gay and transgender individuals.

“You’re the devil,” he shouted. “You have to be part of the devil to join a crowd like this.”by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Mandara Nott of Portland makes a sign for the demonstration near Sweet Cakes.

Protesters exacerbated the situation by putting video cameras in the preacher’s face and yelling, “I’m a gay Christian. What do you think about that?”

“Preacher Ray,” a self-described retired Assembly of God evangelist who formerly preached on college and high school campuses along the west coast, said he attended the boycott because he says the Christian Bible forbids homosexuality.

“I’m not against nobody,” said Preacher Ray, who said his ex-wife and daughter are lesbians. “I’m a person who knows the truth and the Bible says that will set you free.” And as a preacher he feels it is duty to publicly speak about that truth.

Other bakery supporters disagreed with the protesters’ logic.

Rodriguez, her daughter Daniela Muench and friend Coletta York of Gresham said the lesbian couple that filed the formal complaint against the bakery simply “took things too far.”

“Equality means everybody,” Muench said. “They (the gay community) preach tolerance and yet they’re the only ones who get to be tolerated.”

Muench said she’s been called a bigot by bakery protesters on the Sweet Cakes by Melissa Facebook page in the last week after she posted in support of the bakery.

“I’m sure if I walked over there,” they’d say ‘you’re a bigot,’ ”Muench said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A man who only gave his name as Ray, argues with same-sex marriage supporters near Sweet Cakes.

Other than two children who ran inside Sweet Cakes and shouted obscenities, Aaron said protesters stayed away from his bakery for most of the day.

The only people inside were a steady stream of customers who supported Sweet Cakes’ intent on operating its business according to their religious beliefs and free of government oversight.

“We heard there was going to be a protest, and because of the protest, we definitely wanted to come show our support,” said Portland resident Crystal Boettlaer, who waited 20 minutes to purchase treats from the bakery. “I’m thrilled to hear (Sweet Cakes) has sold out several times and have to keep making more.”

Business has bustled with patrons since the bakery learned of an Oregon’s Department of Justice investigation for alleged violations of the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Aaron said that on a normal Saturday he makes $300 to $400. But on Saturday, Feb. 3, he made roughly $2,300. And last Tuesday, he received 20 times the amount of business he sees on an average Tuesday.

But the bakery’s recent notoriety hasn’t come without backlash.

Saturday’s protest was organized through a “Boycott Sweet Cakes by Melissa, Gresham, OR” Facebook group. The Kleins have received hundreds of phone calls and letters from people calling them “bigots” and “homophobes.”

And last week, Aaron said a hacker posted a racist, sexist, homophobic rant on the bakery’s Facebook page.

Aaron said he doesn’t regret standing up for his beliefs.

“I still believe what I believe, and if I’m going to catch hell for it, I’m going to catch hell for it,” he said. “Right is right in my book, and I still believe I did the right thing.

“The stuff that’s going on on the Internet and the phone calls and that kind of stuff, we’re talking about a level of maturity that it seems like somebody hasn’t achieved. Realistically speaking, that’s stuff that my 13-year-old daughter’s friends would say.”

After protesting for four hours, gay-rights activists marched through downtown Gresham to Bella Cupcake. When news of the controversy hit, that bakery wrote on its Twitter and Facebook pages, “We appreciate ALL of our customers, without you we wouldn’t be here!”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Charlene Rodriguez, left, and her daughter, Daniela Muench,  both of Clackamas, show their support for Sweet Cakes by Melissa during a demonstration by same-sex marriage supporters on Saturday, Feb. 8.




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