Landlord asks Westerville businesses not to display LGBTQ+ signage, citing Catholic beliefs
Bill Morgan has owned Morgan's Treasure jewelry store in Uptown Westerville since he and his wife opened in 2006.
The shop is inside what is one of Westerville's oldest buildings at the corner of State and Main streets. In the shop, the sound of machines whirred and hummed. Their storefront windows are adorned with enlarged photos of their craft while the anvils, hammers and other tools that made that jewelry sit stacked in the back room of the shop.
Uptown Westerville was abuzz with activity Friday afternoon and the Morgans are expecting large crowds from the Westerville Queer Collective's pride celebration Saturday. The shop doesn't display advertisements for Pride or LGBTQ+ flags like some of their neighbors, but Morgan said he supports the LGBTQ community nonetheless and has donated to Westerville's LGBTQ+ group.
Morgan said he is concerned though, because his Lancaster-based landlord, Link Llewellyn sent a letter to his commercial tenants clustered at that street corner earlier this week. The letter asked all tenants to refrain from posting any signage or communication inside or outside their storefront supporting or opposing LGBTQ+.
He cited his Catholic beliefs and included Catechism of the Catholic Church footnotes at the bottom of the email.
"I believe that allowing my properties to be used for such a thing would be offensive to God," Llewellyn wrote.
Morgan told WOSU he went home after seeing the email, went to read his lease and then replied all to the email to make sure Llewellyn and all the other tenants included in the chain saw his reply.
"My words were 'Sorry Link, but I reject almost everything you said,'" Morgan said.
Llewellyn did not respond to requests for comment but Morgan showed WOSU a reply from Llewellyn. In the reply, the landlord did not relent but said he is okay with Morgan's beliefs and hopes his business is successful this weekend with the Pride celebration.
The landlord's properties include a boutique, a salon, a deli, a home goods store, and a financial advisory firm.
Another business owner and tenant of Llewellyn asked to remain anonymous because they fear they could be evicted if they speak out against Llewellyn. They said they have family members who are LGBTQ+ and support the community but don't display signage in the windows.
"A lot of people don't agree with the letter," they said. "We're not against the (LGBTQ+) community one bit."
The business owner said they think Llewellyn would ask him to leave the building if they put up LGBTQ+ signage or talked to the press.
"I think a lot of people who work in Westerville are a part of the (LGBTQ+) community," they said.
Morgan said the lease his business is under prohibits tenants from adding signage to their windows without Llewellyn's permission regardless of beliefs. Llewellyn's letter was written as a request to his tenants and did not mention any punishments if tenants didn't comply.
Morgan said he hasn't seen other tenants push back against Llewellyn the way he did.
Some other businesses have "Wear Orange" signs that advocate against gun violence and businesses across the street not owned by Llewellyn across the street have posters advocating for Westerville's Pride festivities.
Morgan said he also has family and friends who are LGBTQ. He said he feels there are a lot of LGBTQ+ people that don't feel safe and feel excluded from society and Pride is a way to help that community.
"I've never been discriminated against myself, but I have relatives. We all just need to lighten up a little bit, I think with everything in the world. This country is so divided," Morgan said.
The Westerville Queer Collective is holding a festival at Westerville City Hall on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.