The unapologetic owners of HomeSlice Pizza said Wednesday they will take down bathroom signs that depict a man lifting up a woman’s skirt, but not because they find it offensive or promotes sexual assault, as critics say, but to spare employees from any backlash.
HomeSlice Pizza sparked a firestorm recently for the bathroom signs at its north Main Avenue location from people who say the signs attempt to normalize sexual harassment and assault in a show of bad and outdated humor.
The two signs at each bathroom have been up since the location opened about four years ago at 2915 Main Ave., owners Cory and Lynn Kitch said. It’s not the first time customers have complained, but the vitriol reached a fever pitch in the last few days once photos and posts about the signs picked up steam on social media. Community members posted numerous comments on HomeSlice’s Facebook page, called employees to verify if the signs were, indeed, placed on its bathroom walls and to pressure owners to take them down.
When The Durango Herald contacted the owners for comment, Lynn Kitch replied with a 273-word email that she said she wanted printed verbatim. She wrote:
“I am responding to the recent concern over my bathroom sign at the Homeslice North location. I am the owner of HomeSlice Pizza and a survivor of sexual assault. While I do not find the bathroom sign offensive, I think that we have totally missed a good opportunity for a meaningful conversation.
“I understand that some people have deep rooted emotional issues stemming from sexual impropriety, and for that I have compassion. I would invite them to deal with their pain in a more productive manner than projecting their anger on a bathroom sign, or a pizza restaurant, or certainly a restaurant employee.
“I don’t support harassment in any form, and to harass and intimidate someone to remove a bathroom sign that you think depicts harassment is hyper hypocritical. I’m sorry if you choose to see rape and discrimination when you look at my bathroom sign. I would have welcomed a face to face conversation; I do not welcome a cyber lynch mob or harassing phone calls to my employees.
“Maybe cyber bullying is the issue that should be heralded here. Furthermore I will not give in to intimidation as a means of censorship. That is something I believe in. This jihad to eradicate everything that may remind someone of a past pain is futile. That kind of change can only happen from within.
“I will remove the bathroom signs. Not because of cyber bullying, or harassing phone calls, or bad reviews online, but simply out of respect for my employees whom I will not subject to adverse working conditions at the hands of a very few unhealthy and obviously bored individuals.”
Critics said Kitch’s decision to hang the sign, and her response, falls flat.
Molly Wieser, Title IX and Student Conduct coordinator at Fort Lewis College who said she was speaking to the Herald on her own behalf, called the acts “tone-deaf” to the feelings of sexual assault victims.
“I work professionally with rape victims, and I have honestly wondered what could possibly have been on their minds when they posted that sign,” she said. “Worst case, they don’t care people are hurt by it. Best case, they’re tone-deaf.”
Wieser said the sign sends a message that people who have a concern about sexual assault will be shrugged off.
“People are trying to talk about how harmful and hurtful this is, and instead they’re being called names,” she said.
Maura Demko, executive director of the Durango-based Sexual Assault Service Organization, said she became aware of the signs when the north location opened several years ago, and received backlash when she asked the owners to take them down. Consequently, she does not eat at HomeSlice.
Demko said the recent movement #MeToo, a hashtag people have been posting on social media to show how commonplace sexual assault and harassment are, shows the climate is changing for people speaking out against sexual assault.
“Every woman I know has been a victim of sexual assault in our lives, and none of us are willing to put up with it anymore,” Demko said. “Women are tired of this, and we finally have a strength in number and voice.”
But many commenters who have posted or responded to posts on HomeSlice’s Facebook page and elsewhere on the social media platform, failed to see the derogatory nature of the sign.
“I think that sign is pretty funny,” said Anthony Ru So. “I thought pizza enthusiasts were more laid back than this. Visit the dispensary before the pizzeria.”
Tim Maher, a Durango resident, posted many comments on the business’s Facebook page in the last couple of days.
“Cory, I’m thinking three signs. The men’s room. The women’s room and the Social Justice Warriors room. Hang in there, I think a sense of humor will come back in style someday,” Maher wrote.
Facebook user James Peach wrote one of the first posts of the last couple of days on HomeSlice’s Facebook page, calling out the owners and asking Durangoans to make a fuss about the signs.
“Wow HomeSlice Durango..... this perfectly epitomizes male entitlement and female objectification in American culture. Durango homies, let’s spread this around and create some change! I love HomeSlice, but the sign has to go!
For advocates and victims of sexual assault, HomeSlice’s signs are not a minor offense.
“This is a great example of how sexual assault and sexual harassment has permeated our culture to the point where people don’t think that much about it,” Demko said. “It clearly sends a message that sexual assault and sexual harassment are fine behavior to everyone in our community when we have signs like this posted in places we all love, support and go.”
Christy Schaerer, executive director of the Women Resource Center in Durango, said HomeSlice has been a donor to her organization, so finding out about the controversial bathroom sign came as a shock.
“I’m dumbfounded if you want to know the truth,” she said. “It goes back to respect for any human being, and there continues to be degradation against women. I’m just kind of floored.”
HomeSlice’s owners said they will auction off at least one of the bathroom signs and donate the proceeds to SASO.