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Firm with rainbow logo won't design rainbow logo for gay-friendly Fargo church

FARGO -- A Fargo company says it declined to do business with a gay-friendly church because the church asked the company to design a logo that included a rainbow, a universal symbol of the gay community.

St. Mark's Lutheran Church had recently been in talks with Custom Graphics Inc., 2501 3rd Ave. N., about creating a logo for the church. But after church council members requested that the logo contain rainbow colors, Custom Graphics General Manager Zach Paxton ended the business relationship.

"The business was declined respectfully," Paxton said. "I didn't mean any offense by it or anything like that."

Ironically, Custom Graphics' own logo features rainbow colors. Nevertheless, Paxton said he wasn't comfortable with designing a logo for St. Mark's that would have advertised what he described as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement.

Paxton said he would have been fine with St. Mark's asking Custom Graphics to make signs or decals, but creating a logo for the church crossed into a realm of which he didn't approve.

"If they would come with something to be manufactured or such, no problem," he said. "But this is trying to come up with a logo and help them come up with ways to promote their agenda."

Paxton said he does not believe he discriminated against the church or its members.

However, state Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, disagrees. Boschee said this case is an example of why North Dakota needs a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"We don't allow businesses to say that they're not going to design a graphic for someone who is Muslim or someone who is disabled or someone that's a single parent because we recognize that that's just a form of discrimination that's not a North Dakota value," he said.

Boschee, the state's first openly-gay lawmaker, was a sponsor of a bill, defeated last session, that would have outlawed sexual orientation discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations such as businesses.

Paxton said the owner of Custom Graphics disapproved of the decision to decline the church's business.

"We were planning to offer our apologies to the persons involved," Paxton wrote in an email.

Phone messages left for owner Paul Paxton, a cousin of Zach Paxton, were not returned.

Adam Johnston and Tyler Schafer, both members of the St. Mark's council, said they met with Custom Graphics employees about two weeks ago for a brainstorming session, and it seemed like a logo with rainbow colors was not an issue.

"Everyone was on board. They were really excited about it," Johnston said. "And then within a week, we get an email saying, 'Nope, we're done. We're not doing it.' "

"No explanation was given," Schafer said.

When Johnston and Schafer first spoke about the issue, they said they felt discriminatory reasons were possibly behind Paxton's decision to decline the church's business, but they did not have explicit proof at that point.

Later on, after Paxton said he turned down the church's business because of the request for a rainbow logo, Johnston and Schafer declined to make additional comments. They referred questions to the Rev. Dan Heath, who also would not comment on behalf of St. Mark's, which shares space with Elim Lutheran Church at 321 9th St. N.

Even though North Dakota law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, Boschee encouraged St. Mark's to file a complaint with the state Department of Labor and Human Rights, which began tracking reports of such discrimination in June 2015.

Since then, the department has received nine reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and four of them led to formal complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigates such complaints, state Labor Commissioner Troy Seibel said.


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