The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday February 9th

Q & A with Crook's Corner chef Bill Smith Jr.

 The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case in December about a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple's wedding because the service would violate his religious views. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission inspired Bill Smith Jr., head chef at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, to sign a "friend of the court" brief, submitted by the Human Rights Campaign, to show his support of gay rights. Staff writer Ashley Peterson spoke to Smith Jr. about why he chose to get involved. 

The Daily Tar Heel: What are your personal views on the supreme court case and the "friend of the court" brief you signed?

Bill Smith Jr.: Well, first of all, lawyers put together the brief. It was a friend of the court, an amicus brief. Lawyers prepared the brief, it was all in "legalese," so that wasn’t my doing. This bakery in Colorado should be required to serve everyone if they’re open for business. It’s sort of the same thing as when you go back to segregation in the South, the idea is that either you’re open for business or you’re not. You shouldn’t be able discriminate for any reason. I agree with it in principle, but I didn’t do the writing of the brief itself.

DTH: In your opinion, why is this a pivotal case?

BS: Well, it’s just the one that came, it’s the one that made it all the way to the court, as much as anything. I sort of felt all this stuff had been settled already with the marriage, and the military. I would have thought that would have cleared up everything, being able to get married and be in the military and all that. But they’ve sort of, I don’t know, found another angle to come at it. I grew up with these people, so I know all about this crap. I grew up in eastern NC in the 50s, so I shouldn’t be surprised when these things pop up. But anyway, they have, and I’m just trying to fight back.

DTH: You signed this amicus brief with several other people. How did you hear about the brief and get involved to sign it?

BS: I’ve done events with the Human Rights Campaign before. I go every year to a Chefs for Equality dinner in Washington DC and I’ve been cooking for that for three or four years now. I’ve been a member of that organization for a very long time and I actually wear their hat at work, it’s my work hat with the little equal marks on it.  So I’m a very big supporter of that for a long time. I'm a gay person, I'm a gay guy, I’ve been supporting gay rights for as long as I can remember. Originally they (Human Rights Campaign) were just going to have people who owned bakeries, I think. They first contacted me to see who I knew who owned a bakery who might be interested. Phoebe Lawless, who owns Scratch in Durham, came to mind and she jumped right on it, of course, because she’s a good citizen. So anyway, I got an email that said "would you consider coming and actually being there when we do this?". At first I thought, "Oh God, I don’t know if I’ll have time," but then I was like, "Okay, okay, I’ll go." I still know people in staff at HRC at this point, so it seemed like something I ought do if I could, so I did. 

DTH: Why did you decide this was important to do?

BS: I see it as part of a larger battle, quite frankly. I consider myself progressive, which I think is the better way to run the world. And discrimination against gay people is bad. It’s just bad for the spirit. I sound like an old hippie, right? But that’s just the way I see things. I don’t believe you should discriminate against anyone for any reason unless they’re hurting people. If someone’s causing harm, then that’s one thing, but if they aren’t then, you know, you should shut up, is the way I look at it. And that goes to people of color, to immigrants, to anything, that’s how I feel about pretty much everything. I don’t get this us vs. them thing that so many people seem to think is important. I’m always in trouble for something, but whenever I get the chance to run my mouth against that kind of thing I do.

DTH: What are your thoughts on restaurant owners coming together to sign this brief?

BS: The chefs in this area are like first responders. As soon as this election happened we did giant benefits for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. They came from all over the state and they’re always generous with their time and the food that they’re giving away. So, no, that’s just how we are. There’s a good group of chefs around here, really forward-looking people, generous people, smart people, and there’s lots of them, so we’re very lucky.


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