I got back from Skepticon IV late last night and it was a blast. I loved every talk I was able to attend. Sprint sucks ass, by the way.
But something happened while I was there, and I’m going to address this first. You may have heard of what became known as “Gelatogate”. Saturday evening, a gelato store just down the street from the theatre where Skepticon was being held put this sign up in the window.
I heard about this Sunday morning via the twitterverse. As soon as lunch hit I ran down to the store to see the sign for myself, but it was gone and Gelato Mio was closed (they’re not open on Sundays, fancy that).
We were pissed. I’m not sure how many attendees knew about this, but those of us who did were pissed. Some nastiness was said over twitter, and I was right in the middle of it. We ate lunch across the street at a place called Trolley’s who normally doesn’t open until 3pm on Sunday, but had opened early just for us and gave us an express menu so we could eat quickly and get back for the next talk. Restaurants being overwhelmed by us and lunch/dinner taking too long had become a bit of a problem, so this was appreciated, especially in light of the stupidity from across the street.
Let me be clear, this crap is not universal. We were, of course, in Springfield Missouri, capital of Jesusland, but most everyone was quite nice to us. I told our waiter at Trolley’s about the sign from the previous evening, and his response was “Jackasses!”. Yeah, he got a good tip.
Later that day, the owner apologized for the sign on the official website.
When I looked at this on Sunday, the second and third paragraphs were not there, they were added later. Here was my response
At some point during the day, the blog posts began showing up. First was JT Eberhard, one of the original founders of Skepticon.
Later came this one from @emilyhasbooks
Earlier today, The Friendly Atheist added his analysis of the same.
These are all good treatments, but something is missing. As a roughly middle aged white guy I don’t usually get discriminated against much. As a rule I oppose bigotry and discrimination in whatever forms I encounter it in, but aside from occasionally being treated less preferentially than thinner more attractive people, I don’t usually get to see the ugliness from the receiving end. It’s an eye opening experience.
One of the first things I noticed about Skepticon was that it almost seemed hidden. The Gilloz Theatre where it was held had no mention of a large 1100 person conference being held there on it’s website. When we arrived there, the sign above the theatre was advertising a John Wayne movie that would be shown there a couple of weeks from now. The first Skepticon sign I saw was inside the theatre.
On Saturday over lunch I was hard up for some foo foo coffee, and went in search of a Starbucks like coffee house. I found one not too far away. The friendly (and kinda hot) barista, who had to have noticed the “atheist” pin I was wearing, asked me if there was some kind of conference going on, because she had noticed a lot of people with nametags on. I told her about Skepticon, which was being held a mere block and a half away from her store. She was still friendly and smiled, but I was surprised that she didn’t know about a huge conference practically next door.
Lastly, on Sunday evening before we drove home, we ate dinner at a local restaurant. Some ugly glances came our way and somebody was overheard saying “yeah, they’re atheists”.
All of these things combined to show me the ugly side of bigotry first hand. We were bothering no one, we were boosting the local economy, and yet we were hidden as much as possible, told not to come to a local store, and by (admittedly a minority) made to feel unwelcome.
It makes me feel ugly. Dirty. Violated. It makes me want to scream.
I argue with Christians, but only when they want to. I oppose religion in schools, but they Christians are the ones trying to bring it in. I respond to their internet hate, but it’s in response. I don’t go to their churches and protest. I don’t carry signs that read “God Hates Westboro” (even though that would be kinda funny). I want to live in a rational world. I don’t begrudge the religious their right to be religious, and I would certainly never ban them all from a restaurant.
This is bigotry, plain and simple. This is little different than how people with dark skin have been treated for years. Or Jews, or women, or any number of groups who have been discriminated against.
This is kind of new to me. There’s no real response for it except to make it known, which the community has. Gelato Mio’s ratings have taken a serious hit since Saturday. They also ought to know that we will be back, and most likely nobody will patronize their store next time, most certainly not me. The record profits shared by other local businesses will not be theirs. This is sad since they were apparently a sponsor of Skepticon initially. Perhaps they didn’t know that nearly all skeptics are also atheists.
But most importantly, it shows how far we still have to go.