Watch: Penn. Grocery Store's Homophobic Sign Sparks Support for LGBTQ Community

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 4, 2020

Mifflinburg resident Nicholas Hornig
Mifflinburg resident Nicholas Hornig  (Source:Screen cap / WNEP)

A sign displayed by a Pennsylvania grocery store contained fallacious claims about COVID-19 and anti-gay rhetoric, sparking demonstrations of support for the LGBTQ community, local news channel WOLF reports.

Wenger's, a discount grocery store located near the community of Mifflinburg in Union County, Penn., posted a sign on its door, asking customers to respect fellow shoppers who opted not to wear masks.

The hand-made sign did not stop at asking for tolerance around the issue of masks, however. The sign's text shared misinformation about masks that medical experts have debunked, including the claim that wearing a mask can be unhealthy because it causes people to inhale more carbon dioxide than usual. The sign also reiterated claims made early in the pandemic that suggest the illness is no more serious than the flu and imply that concern around COIVD is motivated by politics rather than public health concerns.

Many professions, including the medical profession, require people to wear masks on a daily basis for long periods of time, with no known health risks or reduced productivity.

The sign went on to level an attack against those to promote the wearing of masks during the pandemic. Local news channel WNEP reported that the sign read:

"A lot of these same people support LGBTQ. This lifestyle is a sin in God's eyes and spreads deadly diseases and sickness. Are they really concerned about people's health???"

The sign created controversy, with a First Amendment rally at the store following. That rally, in turn, sparked a loosely-organized rally of LGBTQ supporters.

Medical professionals say that wearing masks can help prevent contracting the virus in crowded indoor conditions. More importantly, masks can help people who already infected — but who may be asymptomatic — avoid spreading the virus to others.

The virus can be present for two weeks before those it infects start feeling sick. For some individuals, the symptoms might be so mild they are hardly noticed when they do develop. But for others, COVID-19 can be extremely serious, requiring hospitalization or even killing those who become infected. It has been estimated that COVID-19 is ten times deadlier than ordinary strains of flu.

Local residents pushed back against the sign's anti-LGBTQ rhetoric by gathering in a show of support on Aug. 2. The gathering of LGBTQ allies and supporters drew a very different crowd in turn, WOLF reported:

Cars with confederate and US flags circled the rally, revving their engines.

Anti-LGBTQ counter-protestors also showed up, some of them pointing to religion to justify their rhetoric.

"My sin's no different than her sin," offered a counter-protestor identified in the article as Carl Schreck, who was referencing a 15-year-old attendee of the makeshift rally in support of LGBTQ people, "but God says you should not be a homosexual."

That rally attendee responded to Shreck with, "Love is love," and added, "you shouldn't judge," WOLF reported.

Some locals told WNEP that the sign had lost them as customers at Wenger's.

"My stance has always been that I don't tolerate intolerance, and that's kind of hurtful when you see messages like that that tear the community apart," said Mifflinburg resident Nicholas Hornig. "It's a lose-lose situation."

The manager of Wenger's declined to be interviewed on camera or to comment about the sign.

Watch the WNEP news clip below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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