Rosie’s Bar & Grill has supported and engaged the students of Wilton Manors Elementary for years.

Now they’re leaning on each other as both absorb withering attacks fueled by right-wing media.

Rosie’s routinely holds toy drives, art exhibits, and more to creatively enrich their lives. For a decade they’ve hosted kindergarteners for a day, teaching them about their community, how a restaurant works, and how to order and tip. Pictures from last week’s field trip were posted on Facebook by one of the chaperones and were seized on by reactionary conservatives, who portrayed it as a trip for elementary school students to a gay bar.

Callers, mostly from places other than South Florida, immediately began tying up the phone lines, making violent threats, and hurling ugly slurs at whoever answered the phone.

‘It Was A Firestorm’

Rosie’s co-owner, John Zieba, told SFGN once Fox News published an innuendo-filled story, things quickly got out of control.

“People started calling right away and blowing up our phones, sending emails through the website, putting comments all over our social media posts.”

Vile comments were made towards everyone at the restaurant, including Zieba himself.

“I said we did host some elementary school kids. He called me a pedophile, that I was grooming children, and said he hopes that I die.”

There have been no specified threats of violence directed at Rosie’s, but they have been reporting disturbing calls to Wilton Manors police. However, threats have been made to the school, staff, and school board members, including Sarah Leonardi, who chaperoned one of the groups. SFGN has been told those are being investigated, but which agency or agencies that are looking into them has not been released.

Community Comes Together

On Oct. 29, members of the Wilton Manors Elementary community showed up to support and say thanks. Dozens of teachers, parents, and students, past and present, came by for dinner and to lean on each other after a rough couple of days. They said they appreciate what Rosie’s does for the school throughout the year.

“There’s a lot of families where the kids are much older now but are still coming in because of that experience. They feel good coming here,” Zieba said.

Equality Florida also spoke out for the school and restaurant’s relationship.

“Anyone who’s visited Wilton Manors knows your trip isn’t complete until you’ve tried one of Rosie’s famous burgers,” Senior Political Director Joe Saunders said. “This is a community institution thriving in the heart of one of the U.S.’s largest LGBTQ populations.”

Zieba believes inclusiveness is a core value of Rosie’s, the school, and Wilton Manors.

“We’ve made an effort from day one to be open to everybody. It’s worked out really well. People feel comfortable here.”

While this faux controversy may break some spirits, that’s not the case here. The school community in attendance that night told SFGN they will always be here for the restaurant, and Zieba said the restaurant will always be there for them.

“The kids are welcome anytime. The kids are amazing!”


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