On June 27, a photo surfaced on an online RPI-related Facebook group that showed a Cusato’s Pizzeria sign with a message that read “HAPPY 4TH / GOD PLEASE / FORGIVE N BLESS / USA.” The sign, found outside the Schenectady location of the company that also operates a store in the Rathskellar dining area of the Rensselaer Union, caused discomfort with some students because of the close proximity of the posting to the recent Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the United States. By the following day, the post had been deleted from the Facebook group from violating the group’s posting guidelines.
RPI students and alumni appear to have mixed opinions about the sign’s intentions. “I can see why some might consider it to be offensive if they relate it to any specific current event in the United States. However, I couldn’t see this before I read the comments in the Facebook thread relating to the photo. I don’t think it is an inherently offensive message, however,” believes recent graduate Eric Penniman ’15. “I don’t see any evidence to prove that it was intended to be offensive. In my opinion, there are people trying to find reasons to be offended, but anything can be offensive if you try hard enough. In my opinion, there are far better issues to focus our time and energy on such as the national debt, net neutrality, and more others than is possible to name.”
Conversely, Theo Browne ’16 believes that “the Cusato’s sign, in the perspective of an LGBT person observing it, is both offensive and oppressive. After a conversation with the owner of the store, it was made very clear that his interest was more in defending his rights than considering others, and I don’t believe RPI should support a business with these beliefs.”
Other students expressed a similar sentiment to that of Penniman. “When I first saw the sign, I thought the worst, that the owner was being homophobic, but when I found out it had been up for several days before the decision I realized that was not the intent,” said Noah Roby ’17. “The owner meant nothing offensive by it, and it had nothing to do with the decision on gay marriage. So at that point I don’t think there’s any reason to be offended by it or to really care about it at all. And I think anyone who chooses to be offended by it, despite knowing the context of it, is being ridiculous. There are more important things to worry about than a completely innocent sign put up by a pizza parlor.”
Alex Roumanidakis ’13 believes that, regardless of the sign’s intentions, attacking the poster of the sign would not be the appropriate response. “I think they are jumping to conclusions since the sign could easily be otherwise construed and was posted days in advance. It is admirable that students are working to further LGBT issues, but going on witch hunts isn’t going to convince the business owner or anyone else who disagrees that gay people deserve love like anyone else. It’s mob mentality, and we shouldn’t sacrifice the right to speak an unsavory political opinion for a world where everyone is safe from being offended. Rather, if the owner meant ill will, he is someone who most needs to be shown sexual orientation does not change your value as a person. If love wins, why aren’t we using it?”
To determine the true purpose of the sign, a member of The Polytechnic reached out to the owner of the store to comment on the sign. The owner began by apologizing for any offense he unintentionally caused, and proceeded to explain that the sign had been placed on June 16, ten days prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling. He clarified that the use of the word “forgive” was intended as a commonly-used word in Christianity to ask God for a blessing with the national holiday approaching. He explained that he commonly includes religious messages when both national and Christian holidays approach, as he feels it appeals to both his faith and his Christian customers.
The store owner also made a post on the store’s Facebook page about the incident to clarify, “To anyone who I may have unintentionally offended, I am sorry. To anyone who questions why I posted these words … on June 16, 2015—it’s simple. We all need forgiveness. And anyone who knows me, knows that I post statements of faith throughout the year and will continue to do so with no intent to offend anyone else. Also, anyone who knows me, knows that I struggle with being ‘politically correct.’ I spoke the truth, but never with malicious intent. It is my belief that we, as Americans, are too afraid to speak the truth, to each other because of the possible aftermath that may ensue.”