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Thursday, June 13, 2024

LGBTQ-owned Micanopy business forced out by commissioner, owner alleges

Concerned with safety and privacy, Restless Mommas closes shop

<p>Outside of the Restless Mommas gift shop in Micanopy, Florida. </p>

Outside of the Restless Mommas gift shop in Micanopy, Florida.

Joy Drawdy once admired the charm of small-town Micanopy. She loved its history and quaintness ever since she’d visited as a child from her home in Gainesville. 

In June 2022, she and her wife opened a business in downtown Micanopy called Restless Mommas, a gift shop selling clothes and crafts made by LGBTQ artists and people of color. They immediately made friends with the surrounding shop owners. 

Business was good, Drawdy said, and they connected with their clientele.

“In that time, it was overwhelmingly supportive,” she said. But she grew unsettled as more people in the community warned her to be careful. 

They didn’t consider moving until they’d heard secondhand from friends and customers that Micanopy Commissioner Mike Roberts had made derogatory comments about their sexuality and presence in Micanopy. 

This wasn’t the first time his views toward LGBTQ people have aroused concern, however. Around 10 years ago, Roberts made various Facebook posts with statements like “being homosexual is a sin,” and “I just feel sorry for these people. A eternity in Hell is their reward.”

Roberts declined to comment on the allegation that he drove out the business or on his views on LGBTQ people when reached by phone.

His latest comments were only the most recent in a series of events that made Drawdy and her wife feel targeted due to their sexuality, she said.

Shortly after moving in, their landlord received a letter from the town commission deeming the Pride flag they’d displayed on their store as a zoning issue and requested its removal. 

Despite neighboring businesses flying American and “Police Lives Matter” flags, they complied with the ordinance.

Drawdy soon learned of a private conversation Roberts had criticizing the owners’ sexuality. 

For weeks, Drawdy said she heard variations of the same story from about 30 people in the town of roughly 660. She became more and more unsettled.

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 “In such a small town, we couldn’t escape. We couldn’t do business,” Drawdy said. “It was all anybody was talking about.” 

Weeks later, when they learned of Roberts’ comments, Drawdy said she started to notice people in trucks pull up in front of Restless Mommas and rev their engines before skidding away.

Then came the spiteful Facebook comments as more residents became involved.

Drawdy not only felt threatened, but she also worried for the safety of her family, she said. In mid-December, Drawdy, along with two or three other business owners, took the issue to Town Hall. After multiple exchanges with Town Administrator Sara Owen, Drawdy was told the issue would be addressed in the Town Commission meeting Jan. 10.

But Owen stopped returning her phone calls, Drawdy said.

Days before the meeting, Drawdy’s neighbor, America Gordon, called to ask if Roberts’ behavior would be formally put on the agenda. Town leaders told Gordon it wasn’t a town issue.

“I really thought that they would say, ‘Yeah, of course that’s not OK,’” Drawdy said. “The fact that they didn’t – it was our last breath.”

For months, the Drawdys wanted to wait it out and keep silent, but they continued to feel more unheard and unsafe each day, and they feared escalation.

On Jan. 8, the Drawdys decided to leave town.

Two days later at the Town Commission meeting, there were more attendees than usual. About 25 people packed the roughly 10-by-20-foot room, many in support of the Drawdys.

In attendance was Holiday Russell, an attorney and owner of Two Parrots Gallery in Micanopy.

“I certainly don’t have a sense that this is a bigoted town,” Russell said during the meeting. 

But Russell believes there’s validity to Drawdy’s concerns. 

“They’re not ones to make stuff up,” he said after the meeting. “They’re not ones to be bombastic or dramatic.”

Toward the end of the meeting, when it was clear the commission wasn’t going to address Roberts’ comments, Micanopy resident Deborah Hart brought up the issue. Considering many of the other commissioners didn’t know about the allegations, they voted to open public comment.

“To have two women invest in a business in this town — that helps us all — be discriminated against because they’re gay is not OK,” Hart said.

Already aware of the issue, Roberts explained he never meant to discriminate against anyone. A self-employed insurance agent, Roberts said the allegations were a misunderstanding of a conversation he had with a client while discussing Medicare. 

During the exchange, the client asked him if he knew the women who’d just opened a shop downtown, to which he responded, “Do you mean the two lesbian women who bought a business downtown?”

As the tension boiled in the room, Commissioner Jiana Williams tried to rein in the situation.

Singling out someone based on their sexual identity is by itself problematic, she said, but his actions weren’t indicative of the town or the council.

“I do feel like we have to be mindful of the words that come out of our mouths at all times,” Williams said.

Again, Hart asked why this was left off the agenda.

The issue was brought to her by various constituents, Owen said, but it wasn’t added to the agenda.

“This was not town business, so there was no reason to put it on the agenda,” Owen said. Based on the information Drawdy provided to her, Roberts was “acting in his personal capacity,” she said.

Roberts wanted to approach the Drawdys but was instructed by his attorney not to because they had acquired legal counsel, he said.

The atmosphere continued to curdle as more attendees voiced their opinions. One woman said Hart was trying to lump the entire town into the categories of “racist” and “homophobic.”

Russell rose to speak and, as an attorney, stressed skepticism in all cases, but he acknowledged people were hurt nonetheless. He suggested the commission consider voluntary discrimination sensitivity training.

But Roberts wasn’t receptive to that idea.

“You know the most discriminated person sitting in this room?” Roberts asked. “[They are] disliked by whites, Blacks, reds and yellows — [it’s] the fat people of this world.”

The room responded with silence, save a few chides from the audience. The public comment section would end soon after, without a concrete resolution.

Russell left the meeting unsatisfied with Roberts’ responses.

“I didn’t come in here and identify [him] as the fat commissioner,” Russell said. “In my view, he doesn’t get it… If it’s not intentional, then he’s ignorant.”

One point of agreement by the audience and commissioners was that Roberts’ behavior doesn’t reflect the entire town. Despite the intention behind one man’s comments, however, Micanopy is still short a local business.

For resident Carol Young, 78, the town administrator’s argument that this wasn’t Micanopy’s concern was unacceptable.

“I think it is town business when you run people off,” Young said.

As the town continues to debate, the Drawdys will spend the next few weeks moving the remnants of Restless Mommas to Gainesville, where they own another business. In their Gainesville store, they’ve set up a corner with mementos they call their “little Restless Mommas,” as homage to that closed chapter in their lives.

Some of their peers say they would understand if the Drawdys harbored resentment toward Micanopy, but Joy Drawdy doesn’t feel the same. She said she simply didn’t want to risk the safety of her and her family. Drawdy still nurtures affection for the town and her old neighbors.

She recalled when a group of people sporting pro-Trump apparel entered Restless Mommas and began perusing the store. When she sparked a conversation with them, they thanked her for her work and said they had LGBTQ relatives.

It was moments like these, Drawdy said, that reminded her of the common humanity that comes before identity, ideology and class.

As their friends reassured them, if Roberts had gotten to know the Drawdys, things might have played out differently.

Contact Jack Follow him on Twitter @JackLemnus.

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Jack Lemnus

Jack Lemnus is a fourth-year journalism major and rural Alachua reporter. He loves to practice his Spanish, fill his bookshelves and gatekeep what he considers underground music.

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