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By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — The LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Westport Pride, has joined a coalition of organizations in Connecticut and New York condemning last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision giving businesses the right to turn away potential customers based on their sexual orientation.

The court, in a 6-3 vote, ruled in favor of a Christian web designer in Colorado who refused to make a wedding website for a gay couple claiming that would violate her beliefs and undermine her right to free speech.

The ruling, which appears to focus specifically on “expressive services,” struck down a Colorado law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and other factors.

“The highest court set a chilling precedent that entities serving the public can pick and choose who they serve and deny services to,” the coalition said in a statement. “We, the LGBTQ+ leaders across New York and Connecticut see this decision as a dangerous step on an already roughly paved path toward fascism and the undoing of the great gains we’ve made towards equality and justice for all.”

The statement was signed by 38 organizations, which in addition to Westport Pride, include Fairfield Pride, Easton Pride, Darien Pride, the Triangle Community Center in Norwalk and Greater Bridgeport Pride. 

The coalition is urging area businesses to sign a pledge that they won’t discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

“I’m shocked, but not surprised,” Brian McGunagle, the founder of Westport Pride, said of the court’s ruling. McGunagle, the father of two children ages 4 years and 4 months old, said he feels lucky to live in Westport where he can live without facing discrimination most of the time. But, even in Westport, “when I go out with my family, in the back of my head, I’m on guard,” he said.

The coalition coalesced quickly after the court decision, according to McGunagle, and it is growing daily as groups in a growing geographic area join the protest, hoping to convince area businesses to welcome all people, despite the court decision.

McGunagle said he would like to see a “Welcome All” campaign where area businesses would display a small sticker or some kind of sign in their windows “to show a message to residents and shoppers that they are open for business for everyone.”

Matthew Mandell, the executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, does not expect to see Westport businesses discriminating against LGBTQ customers as a result of the ruling.

“Westport is an open and inviting community. Our businesses are, and continue to be, receptive to commerce from all,” Mandell said.

State Rep. Dominique Johnson, D-143, whose district includes part of Westport, joined fellow legislators in the LGBTQ+ Caucus in the state General Assembly decrying the ruling:

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States continues the systemic discrimination that LGBTQ+ people in Connecticut and beyond have been routinely subjected to throughout human existence, which is exclusion from an equal and safe opportunity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the caucus said.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong also was highly critical. “This wrong and hurtful decision undermines state nondiscrimination laws at a time of rising threats and hostility targeting the LGBTQ+ community. This Supreme Court is destroying fundamental protections Americans have fought for and lived by for decades,” Tong, a Democrat, said in his statement.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the decision “heartbreaking and contrary to all of our anti-discrimination laws.” He said the court ruling “will be incredibly harmful to millions of Americans.”

“The court’s open acceptance of bigotry could not be further from the sentiment of most Americans,” U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn.,said in a statement.

The Connecticut/New York coalition of LGBTQ groups is committed to continue its fight against discrimination, McGunagle said.

“We call on all businesses to disavow the court’s validation of discrimination and pledge to serve LGBTQ+ and all customers,” the coalition’s statement concluded. “We ask you to stand with us staunchly against hate in all forms.”

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.