Florida Catholic Bookstore Wins Right to Discriminate Against LGBTQ+ Customers

A Florida bookstore has won an exemption from LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections in a case which some observers say shows U.S. federal courts’ increasing willingness to hear anti-LGBTQ+ lawsuits where no actual harm has been done.

The Queen of Angels Catholic Store, Jacksonville, will now be able to state publicly that staff will only refer to customers according to the pronouns that align with the person’s assigned sex, not gender.

The bookstore, owned by Christie DeTrude, sued the City of Jacksonville because a city ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, making the store’s desired policy on pronouns illegal. The lawsuit claimed the bookstore’s religious liberty was violated because it could not discriminate, according to Gay City News, which noted, “The store has not explained how its employees and owner would discern any customer’s sex at birth.”

The lawsuit is now likely being settled, as the city is inclined to grant the bookstore an exemption from the ordinance on religious grounds, which “would mean that Queen of Angels could simply put up a sign saying it will not serve transgender, non-binary, or genderqueer people.” Gay City News reported:

“In an email, an attorney representing Jacksonville wrote that the lawsuit was not over, but otherwise declined to comment. During a May 15 hearing, Craig Feiser, an attorney in Jacksonville’s general counsel’s office, told Timothy Corrigan, the judge who heard the case, that the store had not initially provided the city with sufficient information to justify a religious exemption.

“‘If it was against a store like Queen of Angels, presumably Queen of Angels would say, “Wait. We’re a religious corporation. Here’s why. Here’s all of our proof that we are. Here’s how we meet the definition. You can’t apply the [human rights ordinance] to us in this circumstance.” And then the city would — you know, no probable cause; dismissed,’ Feiser said. . .

“A settlement means that the result applies only to Queen of Angels and prevents the store from appealing the consent decree to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from federal courts in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. The 11th Circuit has been hostile to the LGBTQ community in recent decisions.”

The lawsuit in Jacksonville is an example of a difficult legal trend facing U.S. LGBTQ+ advocates. Right-wing groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Queen of Angels, are weaponizing religious identity to end non-discrimination protections. Gay City News explained:

“What is common to many of these [anti-LGBTQ+ religious liberty] cases is that, like Queen of Angels, the plaintiffs have not suffered any harm. The federal courts typically do not hear cases in which there is no damage or controversy, but they continue to carve out an exception to hear lawsuits that could ultimately disadvantage the LGBTQ community. . .

“These cases also disprove the complaint by religious conservatives that religious liberty is under attack precisely because the plaintiffs have not experienced any harm. The more likely explanation for these lawsuits is the desire to apply social penalties to LGBTQ people.”

Jennifer Pizer, chief legal officer for Lamba Legal, commented on this trend in strong terms:

“Given the recent obsession among right-wing political candidates and agitators to try to erase trans and non-binary people and shut down all conversation about gender expansiveness and free gender expression, this new…demand for a license to gratuitously, obnoxiously harass others on top of claiming a right to refuse service is one more step down an abusive and dangerous path.”

Some Catholics, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other church leaders, have been central in leading the U.S. down this negative path on LGBTQ+ rights. Bondings 2.0 has reported on the many legal challenges that Catholic dioceses, healthcare systems, social service agencies, and others have launched against LGBTQ+ non-discrimination efforts. These groups have found federal courts, and notably a Supreme Court with three Trump-appointed justices, to be quite friendly to their challenges.

But being Catholic is not about legal victories. It is about ethical living on the path of Christian discipleship. Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people may be legal on one path, but it is not, nor will it ever be ethical in following the path of Jesus.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 23, 2023

1 reply
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    That this happened in Florida is not at all surprising. ( I live in Florida.) I wonder how the bookstore will determine the specific gender of any customers? Would they refuse a sale to someone of uncertain equipment ? Is this the new definition of ‘laughing stock’ ?


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