Discrimination is a Bad Business Model

Having lived through the '50s and '60s, I can reflect back to the civil rights lunch counter sit-ins – the most memorable taking place at the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The struggle of the Greensboro Four – the four black students who sat down for coffee and, when refused service, remained sitting all day, spurring dozens of others to join their peaceful protest – was both noble and necessary. But I have often pondered, what was the management at Woolworth's thinking? What corporation would implement a business plan that refuses to sell its product to those sitting at its lunch counter?

Suffice to say, segregating customers proved to be a poor business model for the F.W. Woolworth Co. Within six months, sales at the company's segregated stores dropped by more than 30 percent, prompting the company to desegregate all stores within its chain. The lesson: Discrimination of any ilk is not only cowardly and thoughtless but it's also bad for sales, bad for profits and bad for businesses that strive to support and sustain vibrant communities.

Traverse City, like many in western and northern Michigan, is a community comprised of hundreds of businesses that work to serve all those who live here and all who visit. We should be proud that we display open arms to people from around the world. But, sadly, some think it's their given moral imperative and right to discriminate against those they perceive as different, including those individuals having a different sexual orientation. We must ask ourselves, is this an example of a viable business model or is this the way of Woolworth's?

Those who are followers of Gary Glenn, the senatorial candidate and anti-gay president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan, and his local sycophant, Paul Nepote, need to stop and think about the community they live in and what destruction can be wrought by well-meaning but mindless acts of opposition to our community's spirit of a loving live-and-let-live ethos.

Traverse City's business model is one of acceptance, of rolling out the red carpet for festival lovers, film lovers, food and wine lovers and yes, God lovers – simply everyone, regardless of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, family status, sexual orientation, marital status, physical or mental disability, or gender identity.

Traverse City's business model is eloquently spelled out in the powerful words of its anti-discrimination ordinance. It welcomes all to live, visit, do business in and safely enjoy the comforts of Traverse City.

Recently, Mr. Glenn caused a dust-up by seeking and obtaining a change of language to his November initiative to repeal Traverse City's anti-discrimination ordinance. Contrary to his preferred (and now adopted) ballot language, I suggest the ballot should read as follows: "Should the City of Traverse City change its name to Woolworth's?"

If the city's majority votes "yes," then the existing anti-discrimination ordinance would be repealed, and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Traverse City Visitors Bureau would be able to advertise Woolworth's as Traverse City's new business model. Given this scenario, I suggest it wouldn't take long before Traverse City was also on a road named Decline.

So again, Traverse City is faced with a choice: Do we welcome, serve and protect all citizens and visitors? Or do we display the sign that suggests only heterosexuals are allowed at our lunch counters and as patrons of our businesses and visitors to our community? I seriously would hope our citizens consider the insidious nature of discrimination of any sort, not only for its impact on commerce, but more importantly, for its impact on the sanctity of the human spirit of our friends, neighbors and our community.