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    It’s a simple shirt, really. A white t-shirt, black lettering on the front reading “Just Us For All, LGBTQ Advocacy, Creating Change Through Community.” It wouldn’t normally stand out among a crowd like this. It’s May 8, and nearly 100 people have gathered outside the Herb and Olive Market in Elizabethtown, carrying homemade signs, some draping rainbow flags around their shoulders like capes. But the shirt does stand out. It’s the reason everyone’s here. It’s the reason Robyn Tylar Saur lost his job.

    He watches through his dark, round sunglasses as the group hoists their signs higher. One young boy holds a sign reading “Honk 4 Freedom.” As cars loop through Public Square and around the old courthouse, horns blast. The crowd cheers.

    Never far from Saur’s side is a lively red-headed woman named Julia Lynch. Wearing a flowery dress, she buzzes through the crowd, always returning to Saur. Until recently, Lynch was the manager at Herb and Olive. She drove two hours round-trip from her home in Louisville to Elizabethtown five days a week for the job. But a couple of weeks ago, she got fired for defending Saur’s right to wear the shirt.

    Fairness Campaign executive director Chris Hartman addresses the crowd outside Elizabethtown's Herb and Olive Market.

    Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, wears a suit despite the 80-degree heat. He takes up a megaphone at 5 p.m. sharp, exactly when the Facebook event said the protest would begin, and greets the crowd, a sheen of sweat on his smiling face.

    “Power to the people! Not just the few! We are Robyn Tylar Saur!” he chants with the crowd.

    When the megaphone passes to Saur, he speaks quietly. The crowd encourages him to be louder. His protest sign swings in front of his thin body — a black poster with white lettering that reads “Silence=Death” accompanied by a pink triangle, a symbol Nazis forced gay men to wear during the Holocaust that has since been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community.

    “I’m still in a bit of denial, honestly,” he says. “It’s really beautiful seeing all of your faces here, and I’m slightly overwhelmed.”

    “We love you, man! We love you!” one of the protestors shouts.

    At one point during the protest, a young boy holds up a sign outside the market’s front windows, where patrons sitting at tables can see it. But a woman with short blonde hair stands in front of him, blocking his sign, her hands clasped in prayer.

    The market’s open sign glows overhead.


    A young girl watches the protest unfold.

    April 20 was a busy, yet regular, day at Herb and Olive Market. Saur, 27, had worked there since February. He’d spent about 20 minutes walking among the black shelves of locally-grown products when store owners Serena Erizer and Lori Smith called him into the back office.

    Once in the office, Smith asked about Saur’s shirt. She and Erizer pointed out the LGBTQ acronym.

    “It makes me feel uncomfortable, (them) bringing up anything LGBTQ-related. It’s completely unrelated,” Saur tells me later.

    When the owners didn’t relent, Saur tried to leave the office, but was ordered to return. Erizer kept bringing up the LGBTQ verbiage. She told him that she doesn’t wear shirts with one man and one woman on it. Saur attempted to compromise, and said he would no longer wear “activist” shirts.

    Lynch, still manning the front of the busy store, wondered where Saur had gone. When he came down the hallway, he looked upset.

    “As a manager, I’m like, ‘What the heck is going on?’” Lynch recalls.

    She thought it might’ve been a bad interaction with a customer. Saur and Lynch only had a few seconds to talk before Lynch was called into the back office herself. She barely had time to see what Saur was wearing. Saur had just enough time to type “dress code, LGBTQ,” and show it to Lynch.

    Lynch says she had never been called into the back office or been in trouble before. She was confused.

    Before negotiating a bathroom break with Erizer, Lynch told Saur to find the voice recorder on her phone. When she sat down with Erizer and Smith, she told them she was recording the conversation.

    On the roughly seven-minute recording, Smith claimed the market was in the process of developing a dress code before the incident. She said they told Saur he couldn’t wear activist shirts at work anymore because employees at the market and the adjoining coffee shop, Vibe, represent their business.

    When Lynch asked to see a copy of the dress code, they told her it was still in the drafting stages. Lynch said that she understood why the store might not allow text on shirts, other than shirts promoting the business. But she was skeptical about banning certain words. Smith seemed to understand her point.

     “Right,” Smith said. “What is activism, and what isn’t?”

    “Right. And whether or not you personally agree with what the person’s wearing is where I think it starts to get into gray areas of more discrimination.”

    Erizer cut in: “It’s not discrimination.”

    “So, if somebody were to wear a shirt that said something religious, OK?” Lynch asked.

    “That’s totally different,” Erizer said.

    “It’s not,” Lynch told her. “No, it’s not. What I’m saying is, if you across the board say, ‘No words,’ or, ‘No words that are not related to business,’ I understand that. But if you say some words are OK and some words aren’t, that’s discrimination.”

    “There’s lots of words that are OK, Julia. But we’re not going to walk around talking about how we view our sexual orientation,” Erizer said. “And really, you can make the argument about it all day long, but I don’t walk around saying, ‘I have a husband and I am his wife.’”

    Lynch pushed back on that idea. “If you can say across the board, ‘No words…’ If it’s church, if it’s anything. Because then you’re accepting something on someone’s t-shirt and you’re not accepting his because of your personal beliefs. That is discrimination. And that can be turned in as discrimination.”

    “Turn it in, then,” Erizer said. “Turn it in, Julia.”

    The two went back and forth about how employee attire represents employers. Lynch again asked why someone would be allowed to wear a shirt with religious text if Saur could not wear a shirt bearing the LGBTQ acronym. “If you want to come in, and you want to wear something about your church, you are welcome to,” Erizer said. “But don’t come in telling me how you like to have sex,” she said, trailing off, almost as if she didn’t want to say the word.

    When Lynch brought up that she was recording the conversation again, Erizer said: “Record it, Julia. Why don’t you just get your stuff and go.”

    Lynch asked if she was being fired. Erizer said no. She said she loved Saur and that he could wear his shirt outside of the workplace. Smith cut in, clapping her hands. “Stop! Both of you! Stop right now. I feel like, I feel like you’re bickering children. Stop!” Shortly after that, the recording cuts out. The following Tuesday, Lynch was fired via text message, and Saur’s hours were cut. Though he never received an actual termination notice, he considers himself fired.

     


    A woman clasps her hands in prayer, blocking a young boy's sign from the window.

    Since then, Saur has taken to social media. After a group called the Heartland Progressive Alliance messaged the market’s page, Herb and Olive deleted and eventually disabled comments. Lynch and Saur tried to schedule meetings with the owners, but Erizer and Smith cancelled via text.

    “They literally ignored us,” Saur says.

    After radio silence from the owners, Erizer commented on one of Saur’s Facebook posts threatening to sue him for slander. Saur didn’t respond, and the comment was later deleted.

    The head of the HPA, Josh French, and the board scheduled a meeting with Erizer and Smith to attempt a reconciliation. At the meeting, Erizer and Smith said they’d been planning to fire Lynch for a while. Lynch says she had the impression that she was up for a promotion.

    Through tears, Lynch tells me that her main goal as manager at Herb and Olive Market was to create a comfortable atmosphere for customers.

    “We both wanted to keep working there,” Saur says. He mentions that Herb and Olive Market is one of the only places to get local, organic products in Elizabethtown.

    Both Saur and Lynch came to the market with experience in herbal medicine. Saur has more than 70 hours in herbal medicine from a North Carolina college. Lynch has worked in herbal medicine for more than 10 years. She’s taking classes now to gain a certificate. She tells me that she had a verbal contract with the owners stating that they would pay for her online schooling.

    “They were investing in me and what I was bringing to the store, which was providing this knowledge and this heart for helping people in that community. I was bringing that everyday to work,” she says.

    “On a personal and a professional stance, it pains me deeply that Tylar had felt cornered and harassed about his sexuality. I felt there was a deep ignorance and an unprofessionalism that goes beyond the norm. A complete breakdown of civil rights.”

    Smith and Erizer declined my request for an interview. They sent me a statement saying, “We do not discriminate against anyone. We have always welcomed everyone into our businesses and will continue to do so.” The statement also said the owners felt that an interview “would not benefit anyone involved.”


    Saur and Lynch stand before the crowd at the Herb and Olive Market.

    Lynch and Saur have their eyes on the LGBTQ community as a whole. They see this as an opportunity to create change.

    “We want downtown Elizabethtown to be as inclusive a place as possible,” Saur says.

    “There should be zero room for hate and discrimination in the workplace,” Lynch says. “This is one situation out of many.” She hopes Elizabethtown will join Louisville and Lexington in passing a fairness ordinance protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.

    After the protestors march past store fronts up and down West Dixie Avenue, their chants punctuated by supportive car horns, they return to the square.

    French gives the final shout into the megaphone. “What do we want?”

    “Fairness!” the crowd cries.

    “When do we want it?”

    “Now!”

     

     

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