ATHENS, Ohio — Both the city of Athens and Athens Area Chamber of Commerce received complaints about Artifacts Gallery before and after a January demonstration that led to criminal charges against a supposed patron of the store.
The business, located at 2 W. State St., has been under scrutiny for months because of owner Amy Mangano’s outspoken support for “sex-based rights” and the belief that transgender people — specifically women — are threats to “women’s spaces.”
Organization against the business, including for the January protest, has largely occurred publicly through social media, particularly on Instagram.
In days leading up to the Jan. 21 protest, Instagram accounts like Boycott Artifacts Gallery (@athensartifactsgallery) encouraged users to report Mangano and her business to the Better Business Bureau and to the city of Athens.
Mangano’s critics believe that signs in her store windows violate Athens City Municipal Code 3.07.62(b), which bars “discrimination in public accommodation,” including by “sex” and “gender identity or expression.”
Athens City Code Enforcement “has not specifically received any complaints against Artifacts Gallery in the last year, although the City received several complaints through our SeeClickFix app over the weekend,” City Code Enforcement Director David Riggs said in a Jan. 18 email.
The SeeClickFix app shows three complaints for Artifacts or its exact address between Jan. 13 and Jan. 17. One filing cites “Discrimination”; the second and third were filed under “General Issue / Code Violation.”
Both stated exactly the same thing: “Amy Mangano, the owner of Artifacts Gallery, has exhibited discriminatory behavior time and time again. She poses an extreme threat to transgender, disabled, and [people of color] residents of Athens. Her behavior violates the Athens City Municipal Code 3.07.62(b).”
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Riggs said that code enforcement is not investigating the business or any others for violating the code and that “[t]hese types of allegations are not the purview of the code office and we do not investigate these types of complaints.”
The City Code Enforcement Office’s vision statement states that its purpose “is a licensing, permitting, compliance inspection and enforcement agency for the City of Athens.” Code violations, such as discrimination in public accommodation, would be handled by the city police department, according to Athens City Law Director Lisa Eliason.
When asked to whom residents should complain, Riggs replied, “I would suggest the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.”
Eliason said in an email Monday that she was “not aware of any action against Artifacts. I am not aware of any referral to either the Athens Area Mediation Services or to the Athens City Police for investigation of Artifacts” for any code violations.
Boycotters and organizers on social media have also encouraged people to contact the mayor’s office and city council about the business.
City of Athens DEIA/Training Coordinator Lacey Rogers confirmed in a February email that “the city has received emails regarding Artifacts.”
According to records obtained by the Independent, at least seven individuals over the past year have contacted the city regarding the business.
Rogers confirmed via email that the city has discussed “the situation with input from representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the Law Director’s Office, City Council and the Athens Community Relations Commission, as to appropriate courses of action.”
“The mayor, myself and city council member [Micah] McCarey were invited to attend a gathering with concerned local community members to discuss the situation and brainstorm ideas surrounding support for the trans/gender non-conforming/non-binary community,” Rogers said.
Rogers added that she is “continuing to meet with individuals from this group and the Athens Community Relations Commission surrounding future opportunities for education, discussion and support for members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
In an interview on March 14, McCarey confirmed that he, the mayor and Rogers attended the gathering Rogers mentioned above. He estimated that there were around 10 community members present, many of whom had trans or nonbinary family members.
One of the meeting’s outcomes, McCarey said, was “zooming out” from Artifacts to look at promoting trans-inclusion in and outside of the city; “Hopefully, that can result in specifically, trainings for business owners, restaurant owners, or managers who would like to make their establishment more trans-friendly, or LGBTQ-friendly in general.”
McCarey is also the council liaison to the Athens Community Relations Commission and the director of the Ohio University LGBT Center. He said that for about the past year, “students have complained and questioned why the owner of Artifacts seems to be disinterested in taking down the language that they felt hurt by, and felt excluded by. It’s probably something that comes up at least once a week.”
For McCarey, as both a city and university official, “The community’s attention, from my perspective, is split between specifically wanting to see a change in Artifacts, and the other part … [is] wanting to see Athens County and the city of Athens become more trans-inclusive.”
McCarey told the Independent the city reached out to Mangano “over a year ago” through the Athens Community Relations Commission: “Our chair did speak with the owner of Artifacts to offer a friendly ear, community perspective.”
Mangano did not mention this during a brief interview last week. In a March 22 email, Rogers confirmed that the commission’s chair, John Schmieding, reached out to Mangano last summer “to try to engage in meaningful dialog surrounding concerns from the community about some of the public messages/statements she was making.”
Rogers added that Schmieding “also had a short conversation with her a second time after this.” Schmieding did not respond to an inquiry sent Monday via email in time for publication.
“The [commission] can essentially offer to facilitate mediation, or education,” McCarey said. “And then beyond that, a citizen who feels discriminated against would be left with the option of a civil lawsuit.”
Chamber of commerce
Organizers also have encouraged residents to contact the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce; Artifacts has been a member since 2006. Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President Kristin Miller confirmed via email that the body had received “community feedback” about the business.
Mangano said last week that “not one person” from the city council or the Uptown Athens Business Association (part of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce) had been in contact with her regarding complaints or “community feedback.” She added that she had not heard from “not even really very many community members.”
Instead, “The only people that I see complaining are the ones that are spitting on clothes and the ones that are coming in and acting hostile toward me,” Mangano said, adding that she encounters people like that on a weekly basis.
The Independent inquired last week if the chamber had been in touch with her regarding any “community feedback.” It did not receive a reply in time for publication. Meanwhile, Mangano said she’s also been in touch with “supportive people.”
The Independent previously asked the chamber whether they planned to address complaints against Mangano. The chamber gave the Independent an official statement on Jan. 20, after a board meeting, which did not address the questions posed by the Independent. The official statement read:
The Athens Area Chamber of Commerce is a member-based, 501(c)(6) organization. Our mission is to strengthen our business community through collaboration, engagement, and strategic partnerships. We offer education, advocacy, networking, shared services, and cost savings programs to our members as part of their Chamber membership. And we share our members’ successes and positive contributions to the community via our website, digital communications, social media, and advertising.Athens Area Chamber of Commerce
The chamber is currently in its membership renewal period, Miller said in an email. “That process will be ending very soon. There will be updates to our website to reflect all changes including the addition of new members, updates to existing members, and removal of former members.”
Mangano expressed a desire to see complaints about her business, as she was unaware of them. She expressed that she does “not at all feel any guilt, remorse, shame for speaking about this.”
A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary – meaning their gender differs from the sex (male or female) they were assigned at birth.
Further, Pew reported that more than 44% of U.S. adults say they personally know someone who is trans, and 20% say they know someone who is nonbinary.
Local group Athenians for Bodily Autonomy is planning to “pass out zines about Artifacts” and provide refreshments on the street across from Artifacts, this Friday, March 31, International Trans Day of Visibility. Mangano did not express concern about the occasion.
According to an email from Kara Dansky, president of Women’s Declaration International, a nonprofit organization for which Mangano volunteers, also on Friday at 4:30 p.m. “there will be a peaceful demonstration for women’s rights on the steps of the Athens County Clerk of Courts … hosted by the U.S. chapter of Women’s Declaration International.”
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