Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chef John Currence's Big Gay Mississippi Protest Dinner

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 11:57 AM

John Currence
  • John Currence

Buzzfeed posted a lengthy article by Wyatt Williams yesterday chronicling Oxford, Mississippi chef John Currence's recent Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table dinner in New York City.

You can read the full article here, but here's a little background. Last month, the James Beard Award-winning chef from Oxford's acclaimed City Grocery restaurant was invited by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant to cook in New York City for a lunch meeting between the Mississippi Development Agency (MDA) and site selectors for major corporations. The goal of the luncheon was to woo these corporations to move some or all of their operations to Mississippi.

But Bryant had recently signed into law Mississippi's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which went into effect on July 1st and provides "that state action shall not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion.” Critics of the bill fear it will be used to protect business owners who choose to discriminate against LGBT customers by claiming that serving those customers would violate their religious freedom.

Currence has been outspoken about the bill. In a New York Times article, Currence was quoted as saying, "The law sends a terrible message about the state of consciousness in the state of Mississippi. We are not going to sit idly by and watch Jim Crow get revived in our state.”

But rather than turn down Bryant's invitation to cook for the MDA dinner in New York City, Currence went through with lunch. But he, Memphis chef Kelly English, and a handful of other celebrity chefs scheduled a protest dinner called the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table the next day in New York City. The Buzzfeed story recounts that affair (hint: Morgan Freeman made an appearance) in splendid detail.

According to Williams' story, when Bryant got word of Currence's Big Gay Welcome Table, he wasn't pleased. Here's an excerpt:

The response from the governor’s office was swift. The morning the news broke about the Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table, Currence said, “I got a phone call, a dressing down by the governor’s office — they wanted to know why I would embarrass the governor like this. And then it fucking dawned on me: You assholes don’t fucking talk to me like a sixth-grader in the principal’s office, I’m a 50-year-old man. More to the point, I’m on the right fucking side of this thing. All you assholes have to do is come to dinner.”

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