As the battle rages on over whether Christian-owned businesses should be exempt from offering certain services to gay clients, a lesbian-owned T-shirt company based in New Jersey is taking a perspective that might surprise some conservative advocates.
Kathy Trautvetter, who founded BMP T-Shirts in 2003 with her partner, Kathy, told TheBlaze Wednesday that both women believe that businesses shouldn’t be forced by the government to violate their religious conscience.
Trautvetter has been vocal about her views surrounding an ongoing debate involving Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands on Originals, a Kentucky-based T-shirt company, that refused to print shirts for a gay pride festival in 2012.
The government has since found the business guilty of discrimination following a complaint filed by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington.
“I was fascinated by the story, because we are a T-shirt maker,” she said. “When I read the story I immediately felt, ‘If I were in his shoes, what would they be forcing me to do?’ I have to say, if that were me I wouldn’t like it either.”
Trautvetter, who said that she and Diane launched their part-time business back in 2003 when they began doing graphic design and visual arts work for gay pride events, said that she supports Adamson’s right to defend his Christian views and his business.
“The idea is that when you own your own business, it’s your own art and creation — it’s very personal … it takes a long time to build a business,” she said. “When someone wants to force you to go against it — that’s what stuck me right in the heart. I really felt for Blaine.”
Trautvetter, who obviously has some disagreements with the Hands on Originals owner, has publicly defended him, noting that any business — not just a Christian-owned operation — could be forced to go against the values its owners espouse. Consider, for instance, what would happen if Trautvetter were to refuse orders from an anti-gay church.
After news surrounding Adamson’s troubles, Trautvetter said that she had a brief email exchange with him and also posted comments supportive of his right to decline the order on a blog where she read about the incident.
Speaking specifically about a civil rights commissioner’s call for Hands on Originals’ employees to attend diversity training as a result of the order refusal, Trautvetter said that she doesn’t believe that the mandate will resolve the issue.
“To me, it’s like you can’t force acceptance, you have to gain acceptance,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people approach us on certain things … and we’ll tell them right up front, ‘We’re a lesbian-owned and operated [business]. This is what we do.’”
In those cases, Trautvetter said she would refer potential customers to other companies she knows that would potentially be willing to do the job, though she said that BMP T-Shirts no longer does custom work and likely won’t be running into these issues.
“There are a lot of people out there who would want to host your event or want to work with you and I would go with someone who wants to help rather than someone who doesn’t,” she said.
And Trautvetter is no stranger to being turned away due to the nature and themes of her products. In fact, she said that BMP T-Shirts was once rejected from a street fair due to its “gay-themed merchandise.”
While some wonder why she didn’t fight the decision, she said she simply didn’t want any negativity. Forcing people to agree with her is ineffective, Trautvetter explained.
“I try to understand their feelings about us. Maybe it’s just about a lack of understanding about who we are and how we are,” she told TheBlaze. “I don’t think it does anybody any good to force somebody to do something … I don’t want a battle, I want to negotiate.”
Trautvetter said that she was born and raised a Catholic and that her faith is still very important to her.
“I am very spiritual. I don’t have any anger against God for making me this way,” she said. “I need his presence in my life. I always turn to him for help. I kind of cover both those areas. I’m gay and I believe in God wholeheartedly.”
As TheBlaze previously reported, Greg Munson of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission announced last month that Hands on Originals discriminated against the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington when it refused to print the shirts.
As it currently stands, the recommended ruling from Munson demands that Hands on Originals take two specific actions: stop discriminating against customers based on gender identity and sexuality and send employees to diversity training within the next 12 months.
Jim Campbell, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative legal firm representing Adamson, told TheBlaze in a statement Wednesday that the commission will meet Monday, November 17, to discuss the situation and will subsequently deliver a final order.
“If the hearing examiner’s recommended ruling is not modified by the Commissioners, then all printers would be forced to promote messages they oppose,” Campbell said. “The bottom line – Lexington, Kentucky would be a place where people who identify as homosexual are forced to promote the Westboro Baptists and where printers with sincere religious convictions are forced to promote the message of the GLSO. No one wants to live in that kind of America.”