Aggie Grads to boot
Landscapers Cause Furor by Shunning Gay Clients
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
Published: November 11, 2006
HOUSTON, Nov. 10 ? Last month, a local landscaping firm prompted a furor here by telling a gay couple in an e-mail message, ?We choose not to work for homosexuals.?
The message quickly made its way around the Internet, and the company, Garden Guy Inc., was bombarded with threats and hate mail. But since then, the company?s owners say they have gained far more business than they have lost.
In an interview Friday, Sabrina Farber, 34, co-owner of the company with her husband, Todd, 37, said the company had picked up $40,000 in new business in the past two weeks, while losing only two clients worth about $500 each a year.
?I?m not saying that to gloat,? said Mrs. Farber, who described the frenzy as ugly and emotionally draining. But she said they would not do it differently and deserved credit for not masking their refusal with excuses.
?Why can?t people handle it when you say the truth?? she said.
One of the two gay clients, Gary Lackey, said, ?We?re hoping things would die down? and declined to comment further in a telephone interview. The other member of the couple, Michael Lord, did not return a call.
The law appears to be on the Farbers? side, said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
?The federal law of public accommodations says if you hang out a shingle or open your door you don?t get to say, ?Only to whites,? ? Ms. Graybill said. But sexual orientation is not protected. And while some localities, like Seattle, have adopted ordinances extending antidiscrimination protection to gay men and lesbians, she said, Houston has not.
The uproar began after Mr. Lord contacted Garden Guy, whose Web site contains this slogan: ?Treating you with respect and honesty are the cornerstones of our reputation.?
It also carries citations from the New Testament ? Mrs. Farber volunteered that her husband was Jewish and now practices Christianity ? and a message against same-sex marriage that the gay couple evidently overlooked: ?The God-ordained institution of marriage is under attack in courts across the nation and your help is needed.?
Mrs. Farber and Mr. Lord talked business on the phone, but after Mr. Lord?s references to his ?partner,? Mrs. Farber e-mailed Mr. Lord to cancel their appointment.
?I am appreciative of your time on the phone today and glad you contacted us,? she wrote. ?I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals.?
In the ensuing uproar, the family had to change its private phone numbers, Mrs. Farber said, and turned over to the police copies of threatening messages like ?I will sodomize their children.?
Mrs. Farber said her husband, who holds a degree in horticulture from Texas A&M University, had done landscaping for gay clients before but had become increasingly ?grieved? over visiting their homes to discuss design and plantings.
Dumbfounded by the e-mail message, Mr. Lord and Mr. Lackey forwarded it to friends, and it circulated widely on gay Web sites. A copy reached The Houston Chronicle, where a columnist, Rick Casey, broke the story on Oct. 20, suggesting that the Farbers ?should refuse to do business with all sinners.?
With the affair spreading to the radio airwaves, Houstonians have piled on.
?It seems to me the Farbers must be a little na?ve,? a letter writer, Joseph Carroll, wrote The Chronicle. ?Don?t they realize they are probably doing business with homosexuals every day? They should check out their pharmacist, hair dresser, bank teller, the nurse at their doctor?s office, the waiter at their favorite restaurant and the church secretary.?
The Association of Professional Landscape Designers condemned the action of the Farbers, whose membership has lapsed, and instituted a requirement for members to abide by an antidiscrimination clause.
In addition to the criticism of the Farbers, there was also widespread support. Mrs. Farber cited one e-mail message from ?Eric in St. Louis,? who wrote: ?Life to the Farbers who have planted themselves like solid oak trees against these strong winds of perversion.?
Mrs. Farber said she and her husband never claimed to be perfect.
?We?re sinners, Todd and I,? Mrs. Farber said. But she added: ?My husband made a personal choice, according to something he felt in his heart. It was never a judgmental choice or a hating choice or even a choice that said, ?Well, we?re better than them.? ?