A Texas town mandated diversity training after a bigoted comment on Facebook against a Muslim woman was posted on the social media site. That didn’t go over well, to say the least.
Lisa Gaines, a business owner in Gilmer, Texas, was kicked out of the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce after a post on her personal Facebook profile garnered unwanted attention and sparked outrage on social media. The former member of the chamber of commerce and the owner of Market Bistro and Ladyfingers Cakes had posted a message on the social media platform that was against a Muslim woman who had visited the town.
Gaines had privately posted a photograph of the Muslim woman she spotted at the town’s “Yulefest” celebration with the comment, “Look what showed up in Gilmer. At the Yulefest. We have been infiltrated.” After Gaines was kicked out of the chamber of commerce for the post, the town of Gilmer also mandated diversity training.
After learning of the Facebook post, the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce board of directors met to discuss the incident and decided to terminate Gaines’ membership. They also released a statement about the post after the Muslim woman was identified. “The Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce sincerely apologizes to Ruwan Alkam and her family for the behavior of a chamber member,” the statement read, according to KETK.
“The Gilmer chamber does not support the exclusion of any race or religion nor do we condone or control the beliefs or actions of the members of the chamber. In no way does this reflect the views or the beliefs of the chamber,” the statement continued. It went on to explain the measures the Chamber would take in response to the post, including terminating Gaines’ membership and issuing diversity training for its members and the community.
“After discussion, the board of directors have decided to terminate the business owner’s membership in accordance with Article II of the chamber bylaws,” the statement from the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce said. “After careful consideration, Gilmer chamber has decided to schedule a diversity training workshop for its members and the community.”
Ruwan Alkam, the woman at the center of the controversy in the photo Gaines posted, also responded to the incident in a post on Facebook, expressing her frustration. Saying she was not familiar with Gilmer, she explained that she wanted to take her children there after she came across an event on Facebook and saw that it had rides that at least one of her young children would enjoy.
“While we were at the fest, someone decided to snap this photo of me (without my consent) with this lovely caption suggesting that I’m a terrorist who has infiltrated their town. I’m devastated. I’m just a mom trying to do my best like everyone else is. I never thought my presence alone would be this offensive to someone. I am active in my community. I donate, volunteer, and I’ve made some amazing friends who have never let me feel alienated. I never felt like an outcast until today. I don’t feel safe in my town anymore. I feel one day someone will just snap and attack me. I want better for my kids, I don’t want to live in fear anymore.”
The Muslim woman later edited the post to add that she was “so delightfully overwhelmed by all the love and support” she had received, not only from her local community but from all over the world, following the post. The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-DFW) also joined the Gilmer community in showing their support for Alkam.
“No one should be targeted by hate, especially a mother taking her children to a public festival. Such comments are hateful, Islamophobic and go against American values of diversity and religious inclusion,” Faizan Syed, Executive Director of CAIR-DFW, said.
Local businesses, including Simply Beautiful Flowers and More, the Trendy Kat, Uncle Joe’s, and many others, combined items from their stores into a basket for Alkam and her family as a token of friendship and symbol of unity. “We present a love offering for this family for them to know they are always welcome here, always were, always will be,” Brandy Ferrer of Simply Beautiful Flowers and More commented.
The community wanted others to know that one person’s opinion is not a reflection of all of them and that Gilmer has way more to offer, not only to its people but all people. As for Gaines, she took down her personal page and her business page from Facebook following the controversy.
The question has since become, were the consequences just? Is a comment that’s rude or biased reason enough for removal? While some say this is an issue of free speech, Lisa Gaines was a member of an organization and thereby subjected to their rules, but does that carry over into her personal time and personal posts, which may reflect poorly on the group? And, should that mean diversity training for all? You decide.