Neil Koch and Jimmie Harper never married. When they were companions – from the 1950s until Harper’s death in 1992 – it was inconceivable that two men would ever be able to marry.
By all appearances, Koch and Harper had a loving relationship. They also had an unusual restaurant outside Eugene, Ore., called The Country Inn, which attracted national attention.
How would they have reacted had they been told they needed to seat and serve Alec Baldwin?
Koch and Harper, both courtly gentlemen (at least that was their public persona on the two occasions I met them at The Country Inn) might have been sympathetic to a man who felt hounded by the paparazzi. After all, Koch and Harper did not take reservations from just anybody for their 16-seat restaurant.
This is what’s so troubling about the increasingly belligerent members of today’s gay community. They act like no one should have the right to reject them, including people whose religion preaches that homosexuality is a sin.
That accept-us-or-else attitude has led to pushback with proposed laws like the one in Arizona to protect “free exercise of religion.”
Nowhere in SB 1062, the two-page Arizona legislative bill, did it mention gay or homosexual, but the media quickly bowed to gay activists and branded it the “anti-gay” law.
There were demands that Gov. Jan Brewer veto the bill or face dire consequences – the potential loss of the 2015 Super Bowl and its related moneymaking potential. She ultimately caved in.
Gov. Brewer agreed to cut her conscience to fit this year’s fashion, to paraphrase playwright Lillian Hellman, who showed more courage when she was summoned to testify before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities.
In Hellman’s memoir “Scoundrel Time,” Garry Wills described what’s needed to launch a crusade and inquisition – virtuous hate. Gays who think they are the target of a virtuous hate have it wrong. They are the inquisitors breeding a new kind of virtuous hate.
We are living in a different scoundrel time than Hellman’s. In her day, a person could get blacklisted for failing to properly show their support for America’s fight against Communism. Today the target is anyone who fails to properly support the gay community.
Land on the gay activists’ blacklist, and you’re a homophobe. Or a bigot. Or a right-wing, religious nut. You’re hateful. You’re intolerant.
Business owners who hold religious beliefs that reject homosexual unions pose a special and inviting challenge. Some business owners would rather be loyal to their religious beliefs than make money participating in a gay couple’s wedding.
It would seem that a gay couple would understand what it’s like to be different (how many businesses reject money?). Instead of going to a business that would love to handle their weddings, some gay couples insist on demanding services from businesses who don’t want to participate.
Thanks to gays like Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman of Portland, who got upset and filed a complaint with Oregon labor regulators when the couple who owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa declined to make them a wedding cake, we now have laws being proposed like the one in Arizona.
Take note of the glee in this story about how the gay community is trying to shut down the family’s bakery.
It’s a rerun of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting days, only this time anyone perceived to be anti-gay pays the price. Nobody has gone to jail yet, but careers are sabotaged.
When “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Isaiah Washington had a disagreement with gay co-star T.R. Knight and called him a faggot, Washington was quickly fired and found himself unemployable.
“A little flak from the incident would have been one thing,” he said, but no one in Hollywood would mention his name.
“I lost everything. I couldn’t afford to have an agent,” Washington said. He and his family were evicted from their Los Angeles home.
“For the last six years of my life, I’ve been fighting off bigots,” Washington told the New York Times a few months ago. “It’s, like, bigots want to embrace me, and I politely take their arms from around my neck. I don’t share their views, never have.”
He sounds a little like some of the McCarthy-era Hollywood actors and writers who insisted they were not Communists and never wanted anything to do with Communists.
Only recently has Washington’s career started to come back – including a movie he describes as an “African-American gay coming-of-age story.” Looks like Washington has become a good soldier in the Gay Liberation Army.
What would two queer fellows like Jimmie Harper and Neil Koch have done had someone called them a slur? Koch could have put any detractor in their place with a glance. He was a true major-domo.
“Koch kept a red book of Inn customers who didn’t tip enough, behaved badly, or otherwise offended in such a way that they could never get repeat reservations,” reported the Eugene Register-Guard in 1994.
Koch was also extraordinarily gracious. His was the first face you saw at the Country Inn.
A restaurant review once referred to the experience there as dining “in a haunted house,” an apt description, but it was more than that.
Located in a restored 1870’s farmhouse on five acres north of Eugene, the Country Inn was shrouded in shrubs, shade and vines. A narrow path led up to a wooden front door, where a sign directed reservation-holders to ring the bell. A window in the door opened, and there was Koch, smiling: “Good evening!”
He led the way into a small dining room, darkened with painted windows. Candlelight flickered on four tables, and the only sound was the ticking of a clock. The place was filled with antiques and art work (Koch was a painter), and off to one side was a pipe organ and a small stage.
The leisurely, seven-course meal was prepared by Harper and served by Koch, who delivered each dish with a flourish.
After dessert, Harper appeared in his chef’s whites and sat before the organ. As he played a vaudeville tune, the curtain went up on the stage, and there stood a painted screen of Gibson-like girls bearing names of the Victorian virtues – including Hope, Charity, Fidelity, Prudence. (In later years, Koch’s trained Doberman became part of the show.)
Diners who behaved themselves were invited to visit a small museum in an adjoining room. Here were more antiques, art work, news clippings about the restaurant and photos and letters from celebrities who had dined at the Country Inn. (People as varied as Marian Anderson, David Brinkley, Christine Jorgensen, Sandy Koufax and Jack Nicholson.)
Koch and Harper created their own world on their own terms and decided who was allowed entry.
Now we have a law, passed in 2007, that provides gay rights protection. Increasingly we get stories like the latest update on the two drunken lesbians, who filed a civil rights complaint after a Portland cabbie left them and a male friend by the side of a highway.
It’s wrong for a taxi driver to leave any customer stranded on a highway so it’s not surprising the driver lost his job. Yet somebody doesn’t want this story to die.
According to the couple, the driver objected to their sexual orientation. How would the driver have known their sexual orientation unless they went out of their way to make it known. Why would they? Did they notice his immigrant accent and his name – Ahmed Egal – and decide to have some fun with a man they assumed was a Muslim extremist?
Is this what gay rights have become?
He noted that gays – like everyone – have a right to privacy about what they do in the bedroom. The government never had a right to forbid homosexuality because it was “none of the government’s business.”
By comparison, blacks and women “have historically been victims of discrimination because there is no way to check identity at the door. … Having been judged second-class citizens at the moment of birth, blacks and women carried this badge with them every minute of their lives … This is not the way antigay prejudice works. Even if the government wanted to it could not keep homosexuals from voting, running for office, sitting on juries, or riding in the front of buses, because there is no way to legislate that kind of discrimination. … There is no way to tell what people do in bed by looking at them.”
Greenfield worried in his essay 36 years ago that conservatives would use gay rights “as another club with which to beat liberals.”
As for liberals, he was concerned that gay rights would become a diversion, taking the American Left away from “the business of working for political and social justice.”
It appears Greenfield overestimated the power of conservatives, but he may have underestimated how much American liberals would seize on gay rights.
Some days, it feels like gay rights are the most important issue in America.
– Pamela Fitzsimmons