Incident sparks equality protest at Earth Fare in Greensboro

by Rebecca Harrelson

Rebecca Harrelson

Editor’s note: This article has been updated below to include responses from Earth Fare and Krispen Culbertson.

On June 16 Aril Parker went to surprise her wife Nikki Mintz at Earth Fare for lunch. Mintz is a regular customer and frequently eats at Earth Fare (EF) almost daily. Throughout lunch Parker and Mintz were affectionate, enjoying their short break together. Once their lunch was over Parker and Mintz pack up their belongings in the back of the café, from there the situation escalated. Parker explains what happened in a detailed written report.”A man in a white suit that we saw out the corner of our eye leaves the café exclaiming, ‘That’s disgusting.’ My wife says did he just say that? We shrugged it off to daily homophobia cowardly behavior.”Leaving EF hand in hand so Mintz can return to her nearby work, that same man is walking back toward Parker and her wife, back into EF. He demands to know if the two women work at EF and promptly reports to them he is calling the police on Parker and Mintz. Parker, confused and shaken, asks why he is calling the cops. Once the police were dispatched, officers bypassed both Parker and her wife going straight for the store manager and the man filling the complaint, who is identified as local attorney Krispen Culbertson (Note: Please see a response from Mr. Culbertson below.) The officers ask Parker, who is African American, to step outside the store.Parker tells the officer she does not feel comfortable leaving the store unless everyone involved comes as well. Parker is threatened with arrest if she does not give her information to the officer. She makes it clear that she will gladly give her information once everyone involved is outside the store. “When Krispen Culbertson came out I immediately spelled out my name for the officer. My wife told the story that I just told to the officer. I asked would everything be in the written report and he said yes,” Parker wrote about the incident. “The next question was ‘you say you were being affectionate was there any nudity?’ I didn’t let my wife answer, I told the officer me and my wife were appropriately affectionate in public and we weren’t going to answer questions as ridiculous as that.”During the information exchange, it is learned the man who has threatened to have both women removed from the premises is local lawyer Krispen Culbertson. Parker and her wife left knowing they would be able to gather the report and file the necessary formal complaints at a later date. Parker contacted GPD asking to have a copy of the written report for her own records, and was told there was no written report from that incident that she would just have to ask for the notes taken at the scene. After two weeks passed with no sign of EF apologizing or explaining their stance on homophobia and equality, Parker soon started a Facebook event entitled LGBTQ and Allies Kiss In/Call In at Earth Fare. Parker and supporters gathered outside Earth Fare on Friday asking for her demands to be met.Parker wrote a list of demands and tried speaking with the store representative Derek Hall, who retreated to the back of the store and immediately called for security and police once he saw Parker with her supporters. Parker explains to YES! Weekly: “to be very clear (Culbertson) threatened to call the cops because he thought we were being inappropriate and gay. Before anything else that is the criminalization and dehumanization of queer people.” Many individuals in the crowd said they just wanted to know if EF is a safe space for everyone.

Rebecca Harrelson

Todd Warren spoke during the Kiss In/ Call In protest. “This could have easily been cleared up, Earth Fare could have asked this man to leave and apologized to Parker and Mintz. They haven’t gotten a response from EF in two weeks and now we come back and they have nine police officers here. This is the same week marriage equality was won, the same week nine of our brothers and sisters were killed in Charleston, South Carolina. The week where Bree pulled down the confederate flag. This is what we do, we show up and support one another. These issues are interconnected.” The demands Parker has asked since the week of the incident are as follows:

1. Staff is trained on how to handle hate crimes/assaults/ill treatment toward the LGBTQ community.2. Full disclosure and statement of policies, practices, and procedures that are/are not in place to address safety for the LGBTQ community.3. To ban the local lawyer involved, Krispen Culbertson.

Parker was told Earthfare completed their own investigation. Then EF released a lukewarm letter not addressing any of her demands.Parker has filed a grievance with the NC state bar again Krispen Culbertson. Parker has also filed a formal complaint against the Greensboro Police Department. Parker said that in addition to these demands the Queer People of Color Collective will hold a “know your rights” workshop and community conversation with the police in the future while managing the complaint against the lawyer and the police.”

UPDATED: Earth Fare emailed a statement to YES! Weekly which reads as follows:

“On the afternoon of June 16, 2015, two customers were involved in a personal disagreement at our store in Greensboro. When the situation was brought to our staff’s attention, the disagreement between the twocustomers had escalated to a disturbance within our store. The Greensboro Police Department was called to the store, and both parties were asked to leave the premises by the police. Further action was notdeemed necessary by the police. We respect the diversity of the communities we serve. Earth Fare works to provide a welcoming and safe shopping environment for all customers every day regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexualorientation or religion.”

UPDATED: Editor’s note – Below is a response we received at YES! Weekly from Mr. Culbertson regarding this incident. In the interest of completeness we have published it below.

This is patent nonsense, and the article ought to have been balanced with interviews of the employees at Earth Fare who actually witnessed what happened (all of whom are pro-gay progressives — and my friends).

“‹Such an approach would have revealed a big problem with the narrative. The break room the women were being affectionate in is small — five tables.”‹ You cannot fail to notice anyone else in the room as you walk in. They were embracing lovingly and appropriately. Before I walked in and sat down. And ate my lunch. And read my newspaper. Did I mention I sat at the table next to them?

Of course, I “‹sat down next to them”‹ “‹and read my newspaper and ate for 15 minutes “‹because I loathe and detest gays,right? Did I mention there was an Earth Fare employee in there, whom, if “‹in”‹terview”‹ed”‹, could have confirmed this?

So, if the situation isn’t about ‘homophobia’, what is it about? How about decency? I don’t care if you’re a man with a man, a woman with a woman, or a man with a woman, embracing and nuzzling is one thing. But smacking loud, wet kisses and moaning in a lunch setting gives your next door neighbor the right to exit and register a small, private objection. I left them to it. I made no complaints to anyone in Earth Fare about them at any time.

And decency also does not encompass hunting down someone you imagine to be homophobic, being profane, disrupting”‹ customers and staff, making threats to “F– your shit up, man!”‹” and grabbing the cell phone from my hand and throwing it on the ground when I try to call the police. This nonsense of me going out and demanding if they were employees: I’ve been in Earth Fare almost every business day for lunch for eight years. I know who the employees are by sight”‹. All of them. In fact, I was only trying to pay my bill and leave.

Nobody is going to”‹ credibly”‹ call me a homophobe in this town. Sixty-five percent of my legal time is spent defending minorities”‹ –“‹ and gays. State v. Steven Stewart”‹, for example”‹. Superior Court, Guilford County, February 2015, involving an openly gay, man being charged with an attack involving gay jealousy. Jury trial. Six months ago. His lawyer? . . . I’m afraid “‹the truth about me is less sensational. I sometimes spend my business days defending gay people’s rights. “‹

Earth Fare exercised restraint. I encouraged the police not to press charges for assault and destruction of property.

If you’re interested in reconciliation and truth, I’ve been easy to reach by telephone since this happened. I only require decency in the exchange.

– Krispen Culbertson