David Engel, the Broadway actor whose legal victory 30 years ago set a precedent against the discrimination of LGBTQ customers, sounded off on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that granted business owners protections to discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals.
“Friday’s Supreme Court decision was shocking and devastating. The news is massively disheartening and I feel that we live in frightening times and cannot look to the courts for protection,” Engel said during a press conference on Monday.
“I live in a kind of a bubble in that the theater world is very accepting,” he continued, “so it’s surprising to me that we’re still fighting for inclusion and to not be discriminated against because I don’t get that kind of discrimination in my regular life for the people that surround me. I’m so surprised at this decision right now, and truly disheartened and shocked.”
Engel’s case, which was taken up by well-known civil rights attorney Gloria Allred in the California Court of Appeals, centers on the discrimination Engel and his then-partner faced when a publisher deny their photo to be included in a book of photos taken at Engel’s high school reunion.
Engel and fellow Broadway actor Eric Underwood attended Engel’s 10 year reunion for University High School in Irvine, California in 1983, where the couple lined up to have their photo taken for a memory book that Worthington reunion photographers was hired to publish. When Engel and Underwood got to the beginning of the line, the employee told them although they would be photographed, they would not appear in the portrait section.
“We were told that it [was] the publisher’s policy and nothing we said made a difference,” Engel said. “We were both stunned and blindsided. We did the photograph together and returned to our table deeply upset and humiliated. In my life, I hadn’t personally ever experienced such blatant discrimination.”
Nearly six years later, with the help of Allred, Engel emerged victorious in the California Court of Appeals and received a “very humble and contrite apology from Dan Worthington, himself.”
Now, 30 years after the victory, the Supreme Court sided with a Christian graphic artist in a 6-3 vote, upholding her right to refuse to design wedding websites for same-sex couples.
“I immediately knew that all the work in progress we had accomplished all those years ago was suddenly undone,” Engel said of the decision.
Allred, who noted that the Supreme Court decision came as a “crushing blow to the rights of David and countless others throughout this nation,” turned her attention to ways that the country can “right this terrible wrong and restore whatever protection can be restored for this often persecuted minority of individuals in the LGBTQ+ community and for other minorities as well.”
“I believe that it is necessary for the legislature in California and in many other states to take action to pass legislation, which will clarify the kind of protection from discrimination that is still available under state laws,” Allred said during the press conference. “The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision does not wipe out all laws which prohibit discrimination by businesses, but it does limit and restrict the protection that is available. I always say… ‘First we cry, and then we fight.’”