A sign asking “How do you tell if a Newfoundlander is gay? and a subsequent sign aimed at people’s inability to take a joke is causing a social media stir, but the Charlottetown, PEI, restaurant responsible for the sandwich boards says they’ve been taken out of context.
“First of all, we’re being called homophobic on Twitter,” said Terre Rouge general manager Alex Smith, whose boyfriend is the restaurant’s social media manager and bartender.
“We are actually a gay couple who manage the restaurant.”
The sign was put out during the recent Pride Week celebrations in Charlottetown.
The punchline to the question on the sign is “If he ‘eyes the by’s.’”
A week later, Smith said another sign was put out as a general reaction to people who don’t have a sense of humour, but it wasn’t specifically about the “How do you tell if a Newfoundlander is gay?” sign.
That more recent sign read “If everyone could stop being offended by everything, that would be great!”
The problem, said Smith, is that the signs were splashed on social media with the appearance they were back to back displays or directly related. That was not the case, he said.
The social media depiction caused a furor and Smith was fielding media calls on his day off after a busy stretch at the restaurant, which has been enjoying immense growth this summer.
The original sign, he said is old news, and actually had positive feedback from most people when it was displayed.
“Obviously it was not meant for any harm.... We had awesome feedback during Pride Week,” Smith said.
The restaurant has a long history, he said, of making jokes on its sandwich boards and uses them for that purpose, rather than to advertise specials.
According to Smith, the “eyes the by’s” punchline — a play on traditional Newfoundland and Labrador song “I’se the B’y which has been covered by many artists including Great Big Sea — was repeated to restaurant staff by a transgender cook who is from Newfoundland.
The cook, according to Smith, found it funny and everyone else laughed too. So they put it on a sandwich board.
Smith said the reaction was slow and didn’t hit a fever pitch until the two signboards were posted together on social media, which he says was unfair and grasping for attention.
“Unfortunately, you either get the joke or you don’t. We don’t find the word gay offensive. We don't find the word Newfoundlander offensive. When you put them in a sentence, it's not offensive,” he said. "It was a play on words."
He said he actually had people dropping into the restaurant who were gay because of the original sign and their feedback was they felt welcome there. He said many took photos.
“We’re not trying to offend. That is not our mantra,” Smith said, adding that it’s the sign of the times there’s no shared collective agreement and someone will always be offended.
“Jokes are hard to come by these days.”
There was an angry outburst during Pride week when someone grabbed the sandwich board and threw it in the parking lot. A pride flag placed with it was snapped it in two and told one of the staff to “go f—k themselves.”
It wasn’t clear if that was a homophobic reaction or dislike of the sign.
"Regardless, during a celebration of pride, that's not how you act in general," Smith said.
But Smith said Terre Rouge has always gone out of its way to be inclusive and created the first restaurant gender neutral bathroom in the city in 2016.
He remains surprised that the sandwich boards have become a media debacle focused on the negative spin.
“We are not like that,” he said.
“Our regulars are like 'This is being completely blown out of proportion.' Everyone is struggling - the media attention and the time people are putting into this is blowing people's minds more than the issue itself."
“I get them trying to be cheeky I guess,” said Charlie Murphy of Pflag Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador chapter, when told of the “How do you tell if a Newfoundlander is gay” sign.
“I don’t know if I find it offensive. I don’t know if I would have put it out like that. …It’s one of those things. It might have been a harmless joke, but harmless jokes do have painful consequences at times.”
Murphy was more concerned about the second sign, if it had been associated with the reaction to the first one, as it calls out anyone who expresses dissenting opinions, when everyone’s viewpoint should be inclusive.
Noah Davis-Power, a well-known member of the St. John’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered LGBT-plus community said he doesn’t find the “How do you tell if a Newfoundlander is gay” sign offensive.
“And anyone who would think that this particular joke of "I'se da b'ys" is offensive to LGBT people or Newfoundlanders shouldn't be speaking or represent either community because that's as far away from our sentiments and attitudes on humour as only a mainlander could be,” he firstname.lastname@example.org