Shrine to tolerance: An altercation in Ybor City turns from discrimination to compassion

By : Jeremy Williams
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TAMPA – The Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Noble Mystic Shrine, better known as the Shriners, invaded the streets of Tampa for their annual Imperial Session conference Aug. 15-18, during which time an incident of discrimination turned into a declaration of LGBT support.

Mathieu Stanoch, the visual director at Honey Pot and president of Ybor’s Historic Holiday Spirit, was shopping at the local 7-11 on 7th Ave. in Ybor Aug. 15 when a man in a Shriners shirt came into the store.

“I went in because I live across the street and was thinking I’ll pick up some ice cream for me and some food for the dog instead of going all the way to the grocery store,” Stanoch says.” I go up to the checkout line and I have my credit card in hand when this guy bumps me in line and decides to talk to the cashier about a missing wallet.”

Stanoch leaned in to ask the man to get in line and, as Stanoch says, the Shriner was not happy.

“I said, ‘Excuse me sir, I have no problem with you conducting your business, but I want to conduct mine first since I was in line first.’ So he turned around and called me a faggot,” Stanoch says. ”I’ve grown up where something like that has never happened to me before, so I was in shock.”

The man turned back to the cashier speaking about the missing wallet and then stormed out of the store.

“I finished my transaction and I go outside and he is standing there,” Stanoch says. “So the only thing I could think to do, I mean he is a Shriner so he has a shirt on which identifies him and his order, was start taking pictures to get his information, and of course this provoked him, and it caused him to continue with the insensitive name calling.”

Stanoch, knowing that the Shriners were in town for the conference, felt like he shouldreach out to the City of Tampa Events Department and let them know.

“Just like when I throw a special event, I want to know if anyone had anything to complain about,” Stanoch says. ”I had heard in the past some instances the last time they were here but they were not documented. So I thought I am not going to let this be another undocumented case. Because GaYbor and Tampa Pride have done so much to build our town into a LGBTQIA community that I can’t let this instance go by without being reported.”

Stanoch received a call while working at Honey Pot Aug. 17 from a representative of the Shriners.

“He was apologetic but he was very protective of his Shriners and didn’t seem very proactive in getting the issue fixed,” Stonach recalls.

Luckily, Ernie Webb was there with Stanoch when he got the call. Webb, one of the owning members of Honey Pot, is also the president of the GaYbor board.

“He saw my frustration while I was on the phone and the fact that I didn’t quite know how to tell this guy how wronged I felt and he understands that part of the role of being president is to protect us in these types of situations and he took the phone and he pushed for a resolution much better than I could have done.”

Within minutes of Webb hanging up the phone, Stanoch received a call from the Shriners legal department.

“The gentleman on the phone had been pulled out of the convention to call me and he was so apologetic, and so sincere. He asked me to email him the photos I took so he could find out who this member was. The way he handled the situation made me feel better because I could tell by how disturbed he was by this that this was not the norm for their group.”

Stanoch was contacted by Rochelle J. Julian, Imperial Potentate of the Shriners, who apologized and asked Stanoch to be his personal guest that day at the Shriners’ parade.

“He invited me to be at the Potentate tent with him and watch the parade and introduced me to all the chairs and VPs of the Shriners and they shook my hand and there was nothing but sincerity shown,” Stanoch says.” At this point I truly got it, I really believed that they understood the severity of what happened and I was happy, but then what happened next was just monumental in my opinion.”

Julian asked Stanoch to join him the next morning at the Tampa Convention Center, where the Shriners were wrapping up their conference. When he showed up Stanoch was escorted into the conference in front of all of the Shriners.

“Julian then had everyone rise and said, ‘Please show Mr. Stanoch the upmost respect and honor,’ and I walk up on stage as they greeted me and they read a statement issued from the international organization.”

The statement was read in full and officially issued on behalf of the entire delegation of Shriners International. It began with the Order’s mission, “to provide our members with leadership and direction in the areas of voter education, youth development, economic education, health and mental research and other charitable programs.”

The statement continued, “In conjunction with our mission we recognize that our efforts must also involve support of the LGBTQIA community in the fight to ensure that all Americans benefit from the civil rights that each and every one of us deserves. We recognize that the struggle and the fight for equality affects all Americans.

“The Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine of North and South America and its Jurisdictions, Inc. will continue to fight alongside the LGBTQIA community as members, friends, family and allies with the hope that one day each of us will be seen as equals under the law and treated at all times with dignity and respect.”

Julian then announced that this is to be officially documented on the Shriners’ history, issuing in the first time a position on the LGBTQIA community has been taken by the organization.

“They applauded and the Potentate hugged me and I teared up,” Stanoch says. ”So I went to walk off stage and he called me back and said, ‘I promised you one more thing.’ And I walked back to him and he looked out at the delegates and said ‘is there anyone in this room who thinks they should give Mr. Stanoch a personal apology?’ The president then turned to me and said ‘I told you I would find who did this to you.’”

The man who had discriminated against Stanoch stood up from the crowd and gave an apology in front of the delegates.

“From there the Potentate turned to me and said you can accept or deny his apology, and I accepted it,” Stanoch says.

Stanoch used this situation to extend an olive branch to show that we don’t just have to live together in Tampa Bay, but we can be together.

“After all of that I emailed them and said I was happy to have them as new friends and offered the local Shriners a spot in Ybor’s Holiday Parade,” Stanoch says.

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