A couple of days ago I told you about a bakery in a small village in British Columbia discriminating against breastfeeding mothers. To recap, the Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus posted this insulting sign on their bulletin board instructing breastfeeding mothers to cover up or they would be refused service and/or asked to leave.
The sign in question says:
If there is the need feed
please be Respectful of
yourself and that
of other people and use a
Cloth or some
form to cover yourself or
you will be
refused service or asked
Straight to the point and
is without discussion.
Not surprisingly, this pissed off a lot of people, both locally, and as the image spread on social media, across Canada, the US, and internationally. On the morning of July 3, the owners Jonathan and Matthias responded with this status update that they have since deleted.
Aha! So this policy was put into place due to an incident with an “obscene” person who flashed her breast while NOT breastfeeding in the bakery. But if this was really about a random woman flashing her breast (just the one?), then why target breastfeeding mothers?
This part was added shortly after the post was first published:
The best part is we have decided to close the Bakery…
Ok for the most part, you ladies should be pleased…..
Wow! That backlash must have been awful to force the owners to close down their bakery. See what us terrible women did to these poor business owners? But in reality, as several local commenters pointed out, Jonathan and Matthias had already had plans for months to sell their Telkwa bakery and open a new store in Burns Lake. Blaming “you ladies” and implying that it was “The Breastfeeding issue” forcing them to close down was misleading and ridiculously passive aggressive to boot.
The next day, the pair posted they’d changed their minds and decided not to close their doors after all.
So does this mean that they decided to take the sign down and apologize? Not quite.
In my last post, I mentioned that a mama on my Facebook page commented that she had been in the Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus just before they put up the sign, and that she suspected the sign was in response to her recent visit to the bakery with her 5-month-old daughter. On Tuesday night, Heather Raven Tuite wrote on Facebook about what happened in the bakery that day.
I was there for morning coffee with a group of regulars. It is not my first time nursing there, but it is the first time I nursed while sitting in such an obvious seat. There are various reasons that I do not use a cover, but I will not justify my choice as it is mine to make and is defended by BC law. My daughter gets easily distracted, and latched breifly before someone at the table got her attention and she whipped her head around, leaving, you guessed it, my nipple exposed. This happened a couple times, before the woman beside me started to make jokes. She often tries to embarass people (in good fun) and started talking loudly about how my “titties” were out. I genuinely dont think she meant anything by it, it’s just how her sense of hunour is. She is friends with the owners of the cafe, and she made a joke to one of them about my “titties.” I didn’t say anything (though I’m sure I was blushing) and I continued to do my best to feed my child who found the other woman’s antics even more distracting! Nothing was said by the management. Nothing to me, and nothing to the other woman who is a regular and well known in the community. We finished our chat and went our seperate ways.
A few days later, another Telkwa mama posted a negative review of her visit to the bakery in a local business review group (the post has since been taken down), and shared a photo of their breastfeeding sign. As the photo spread on Facebook, Heather started to wonder if the sign was in response to her visit the other day.
I sent a message [to the bakery] asking if I was the woman they were refering to. They have seen it but havent responded.
I have no idea if I am that woman, but even having to question it has been difficult for me. I have experienced more subtle forms of discrimination before, but never something so blatant. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go back there to nurse and have coffee with friends again. That I wouldn’t be welcome because I would be nursing my baby. I was embarassed that something that’s almost second nature to me now was being seen as something so perverse. I was disturbed to have my actions with my body (which I am not particularly comfortable with as it is) suddenly become a political statement. I surprised that people could find my actions offensive. I was angry that anyone would express judgement about a mother feeding her child in the most healthy and confortable way she could. I still don’t know quite how to feel about it all.
I spoke with Heather tonight, and she said she’s never experienced breastfeeding discrimination or shaming before. Any feedback she’s received about breastfeeding in the past has been positive. But now she’s left wondering who else has a problem with her feeding her baby.
I thought this issue had resolved itself, but the bakery has announced that it will NOT be closing as they had previously stated. They thanked the public for their support, which makes me wonder how many other people in our valley take issue with my daughter eating in public or with me feeding her in their line of sight.
Those that know me know I can be quite the social justice warrior, but when it comes to something so personal: a place where I eat, in my community, with my friends, involving my baby and my body, I feel awkward speaking out. We all know that making any public statement online is an invitation for criticism and I already feel surprisingly vulnerable. That being said, I dont want to drive through Telkwa and see this business and have these unresolved feelings. I want to know if I am welcome to come back. I want to know if they are apologetic for their statements about breastfeeding women like me. And I want to know if I am that woman that they were targeting when they put up their sign.
Heather decided to go back to the Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus today. She didn’t go intending to start a scene. She was hoping to have an open and respectful conversation with the owner and find out if she would be welcome back with her friends, breastfeeding her baby as she had always done. In Heather’s words, here’s what happened.
When I arrived I passed my baby off to one of my friends who had agreed to go with me. I waited in line for a very long time while one of the owners made another drink and moved back and forth behind the counter. When he came up I smiled and started to give my order. A brief conversation took place which I am doing my best to accurately describe.
He interupted me and asked “are you here to start trouble?”
I said “excuse me?”
He said, “are you here to start trouble for me and my business or are you here to order?”
I said I was there to get tea (I had my wallet on the counter and my money in my hand) and before I could say more, he interrupted me and said “because if you’re here to cause trouble I will shut [the restaurant] down and kick everyone out.”
At that point I could feel myself start to cry and I knew I had gotten my answers, so I told him I suddenly wasnt hungry, turned from the counter, and went to grab my child. At least two people in line behind me had heard what he said. I told the two other people that had gotten there before me what he had said and why we were leaving. One spoke to him and said that I had come to give him a second chance and suggested that it would help his business. He said his business was doing just fine.
So Heather left. There was another bizarrely aggressive interaction with the building’s owner (Telkwa councillor Leroy Dekens) towards Heather and a reporter who happened to show up at the same time, but bottom line, Heather left the bakery in tears.
It seems clear that based on the owner’s response, he knew who Heather was and identified her as the “obscene woman” who had prompted their sign. She reports she didn’t see the sign still up when she went in today, but based on Jonathan and Matthias’ refusal to acknowledge their policy was wrong and illegal, their absence of any apology, and how Heather was treated today, it seems reasonable to assume they are standing firm on their breastfeeding policy.
I am still stunned that I was essentially kicked out of the Telkwa Bakery because I breastfeed and stand up for breastfeeding mothers. I feel a similar mix of emotions that I felt before. Embarassment, shock, anger… and now an incredible sense of loss as I realize that my little community isn’t what I thought it was. There are two sides to every arguement, but knowing that anyone is okay with me, a customer, resident, mother, and person, being kicked out of a public space for exercising my right to comfortably feed my child is difficult to come to terms with. I guess I will have to get used to feeling that pit in my stomach when I drive through the town I grew up in and past this business.
I can’t say I will ever feel as comfortable breastfeeding in public as I used to, but I am so thankful for my friends, family, and even strangers for supporting me and reaffirming that I am not in the wrong for feeding my baby without a cover, for expecting to be treated fairly, or for going back to that business to try to move past their serious laps in judgement.
I asked Heather how she was feeling about breastfeeding in public after this whole ordeal.
I’m sure that I will be more self-conscious, but I will not stop doing it. Between being on bedrest for months before my daughter was born and struggling with low supply and a baby with related health problems, I can say for sure that I will keep getting out into the community, and I will keep breastfeeding until we choose to stop.
And her thoughts on that nurse-in people have been talking about?
I certainly understand why someone would want to attend a nurse-in, but I won’t be organizing one.
As I’ve watched this story develop, I’ve seen many people say that it’s their business, and they can make the rules there. Let me be clear: this is completely untrue. In reality, any business providing services to the public has many rules and regulations they must adhere to in order to stay in business. They must register with the government, obtain a business number, obtain any required permits and licenses, file and pay taxes, comply with fire and safety regulations, submit to inspections, and follow provincial and federal laws. Businesses are obliged to treat all customers equally under the law. In particular, they do not have the right to refuse service to individuals based on any protected grounds. According to the BC Human Rights Code, this includes breastfeeding.
Just like a business can’t put up a sign that says, “No gays or lesbians allowed,” or “No refugees allowed,” a business cannot put up this sign either. In fact, just like race, religion, and sexual orientation, breastfeeding is explicitly protected under the category of sex discrimination. Whether you or I agree with this is irrelevant. The BC Human Rights Tribunal has determined that discrimination because of breastfeeding constitutes sex discrimination, and they decide what is legal discrimination. Not you, not me, and not any business. The law is clear here, and the bakery is opening itself up to a human rights complaint if they attempt to enforce this.
If any breastfeeding mothers find themselves discriminated against, whether at the Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus or at any other place serving the public in BC, here’s how to file a human rights complaint. For advice or assistance with filing a complaint, contact the BC Human Rights Clinic.