Skip to main content

Why I put that sign in my pizzeria window

By Rocco DiGrazia
updated 8:12 PM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
Rocco DiGrazia put this sign up in his Tucson, Arizona, pizzeria after state legislators passed anti-gay legislation.
Rocco DiGrazia put this sign up in his Tucson, Arizona, pizzeria after state legislators passed anti-gay legislation.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed bill that would give businesses right to refuse to serve gays
  • Rocco DiGrazia's pizzeria sign: "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators"
  • He says not long ago, blacks, Indians and Chinese were discriminated against in Arizona
  • DiGrazia was sure Brewer would veto; it would hurt Arizona businesses if it became law

Editor's note: Rocco DiGrazia describes himself as a "failed anthropologist and thwarted musician, but a decent father and passable pizzaiolo." He owns Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson, Arizona, and is married with two children.

(CNN) -- On Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer rightly vetoed the state bill that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people on religious grounds. I had a bet with a friend that she wouldn't sign it -- and wonder why it took her so long. She won't take a hit to the pocketbook -- she's too savvy for that.

In the days leading up to this, I put a sign in the window of my pizzeria that said: "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators." The reaction was vastly and overwhelmingly positive, with only a few people telling me they wouldn't ever eat at my restaurant again. Mainly, we have received many, many messages of support; phone calls, e-mails and texts, from people who live in Tucson, across the state and even from outside the United States.

Arizona pizzeria owner Rocco DiGrazia says he can\'t condone discrimination against one group of people.
Arizona pizzeria owner Rocco DiGrazia says he can't condone discrimination against one group of people.

The sign is part of a tradition we have. When I moved into the supposedly cursed restaurant space on Broadway in Tucson, Arizona, 15 years ago, I found a box of letters -- the kind you put on a marquee sign out front. By the end of the day, I had a message on the sign. We've been changing it every day since. I am often told people plan their routes to see what we have to say each day -- even if just for a chuckle.

Sometimes we put up song lyrics, or a snarky comment about someone in the news, such as Anthony Weiner. One day we put up "Free Pussy Riot." Some people get their knickers in a twist about our messages, but we do it for ourselves as much as anything.

Then I learned that the state Senate once again passed an appalling bill that attempted to save me from my fellow Arizonans. I thought, "Oh no, not again." If anything seemed ripe for parody, this was it.

It was irresistible. I instantly typed a comment on my Facebook page, saying that the busybodies in the capital of Phoenix were not allowed to come in and sit at my table. Minutes later, one of my followers supplied the sign that so eloquently expressed my viewpoint. I laminated it, and by that afternoon it was on my doors.

Since then, a lot of similar signs showed up in the windows of Tucson businesses saying "We reserve the right to serve anybody." Tucson is a little more liberal than Maricopa County and Phoenix: We're a university town. People here just don't care about things like that. At restaurants, we just serve you and smile.

Who is behind the Ariz. anti-gay bill?
Conservative groups back Arizona bill
Ex-Rep. Jim Kolbe: Bill sends wrong idea
CEO: Arizona is a welcoming state

Arizona businesses have already been hurt by reactionary positions, such as our anti-immigration laws. The state has been boycotted before -- and it hurts because we depend a lot on tourism.

Freedom or oppression? That's the question for Arizona's SB1062

As well as hurting small businesses, plenty of large companies have reconsidered locating here, saying, "We'll take our dollars elsewhere." One business owner, reacting to this legislation, even told me: "Arizona is the American Uganda" -- where they put gay people in jail. We have so much poverty, terrible roads, some unbelievably bad schools -- and this bill is what our legislators wasted their time on.

Many Americans think they know what living on the border is like. But Tucson was long a part of Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. Many of our old Indian, Mexican, Chinese and Anglo families here have histories that go back long before Arizona was even a territory of the United States. And as in much of the West, a live-and-let-live philosophy pervades our lives here in a real and tangible way.

This century will be one of expanding civil rights for individuals. But Prohibition, Jim Crow, Indian schools -- where they tried to make Native American children abandon their identities -- and anti-Chinese immigration laws are not so far in the past that we can safely ignore them. They were wrong, just like discrimination against gay people is wrong.

This legislation was ostensibly trying to protect religious freedom. A lot of Christian groups feel like they're being persecuted by our culture, and that is really what underlies this bill. But if they feel like they're being persecuted, they should try being gay for a little while.

I cannot condone discrimination against one group of people. Regardless of the kind intentions of the lawmakers to the north of Tucson that were trying to make sure I have freedom of religion, I already have it. This bill was gratuitous as well as ridiculous. I can already refuse service to anyone -- and that includes any one of those several dozen Arizonans who aren't representing my views in Phoenix.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Rocco DiGrazia.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT