When a Ketchikan man and his fiance sought to line up the floral arrangements for their wedding in August, they didn’t expect to be denied service.
However, they say that’s exactly what happened.
“Mom said, ‘The wedding is for two grooms, are you OK with that?’ The woman went silent for a while and then said, ‘No,’” said Tommy Varela in a phone interview. “My mom was hurt. We were all hurt.”
Heavenly Creations, a Ketchikan-based florist, denied service to Varela after his mother asked if they had a problem providing flowers for the marriage of the two men, Varela said. The business did not answer or respond to multiple messages, emails and phone calls across multiple days requesting comment. The florist’s Facebook page has deleted numerous comments supporting the grooms and the LGBTQ community since Friday.
“I don’t even know who I spoke to because we didn’t exchange names,” said Kathleen Varela, Tommy’s mother, in a phone interview. “I said, ‘It’s a wedding for two grooms, are you comfortable with that?’ And there was a long and awkward silence and then ‘No, I’m not comfortable with that.’”
Kathleen Varela said the florist has never expressed any antipathy toward the LGBTQ community before. Heavenly Creations is the same florist Tommy used to get his boutonniere for prom, Kathleen Varela said.
“I’ve asked everybody. I’ve been up front with everybody,” she said. “I guess I just wasn’t prepared for the no, especially since we’ve done business.”
Tommy Varela, with the help of a family friend, organized a rally for the next day outside the florist, located on Ketchikan’s waterfront. The rally was well-attended, Tommy Varela said, with between 100 and 200 people showing up.
“We had someone with a megaphone leading a couple of love chants. Other than that, it was a really peaceful gathering and display of love. We cheered for all the honks we got. I feel like there weren’t any moments of silence,” Tommy said. “Ketchikan already has this great sense of community, and I’ve seen them come together in times of need to support. I was proud of everyone for keeping it peaceful. It was a really peaceful display of support.”
Tommy was quick to point out that the point of the demonstration wasn’t against the florist but to support Ketchikan’s LGBTQ community.
“I think what’s important to note is it wasn’t in any way an anti-Heavenly Creations protest but just a display of love and affection,” Tommy Varela said. “Protests are great and we have to keep that momentum going.”
Tommy Varela said he hopes that people will look at the rally as an example, and use their feelings about the matter to help improve Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws.
“It was a nice rally,” Kathleen Varela said. “It was nice that there were so many young adults in the community who could see they had allies.”
While certain cities and boroughs in Alaska, such as Juneau, have laws against discriminating based on gender expression or sexual orientation, Alaska as a whole does not.
“This is a perfect time for people to take that anger about what they feel and turn it into good and write to their mayors and their government and senators and state representatives,” Tommy Varela said. “I think it’s a perfect time for this state to be at the forefront of another LGBTQ battle, anti-discrimination laws and other laws that protect queer people from discrimination.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.