Friday, August 21, 2009

"I Want to Fire that Fucking Queer."

Dear Reader,

In 2002, I decided it was time to step out onto the public scene and join the fight for LGBT equality. One may think my home at the time, Orlando, FL has always been a progressive city where LGBT citizens are awarded full protection under the law. One may think this because Central Florida is home to vacation giants Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando, all of which have very inclusive policies protecting their LGBT team members – or maybe I should say LGB team members. I’m not sure any of them are fully inclusive of transgender team members, something that needs to change.

But, Orlando was not in 2002 as open and inviting to LGBT people as city officials like former Mayor Glenda Hood would have wanted people to think. So a group of LGBT and supportive activists had enough. They staged protest speeches on the steps of city hall, sent letters, postcards and placed phone calls to city council and the mayor and worked with supportive city council members like Patty Sheehan and Daisy Lynum to introduce adding sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination protections in chapter 57 of the city’s code.

I remember going to the protest speeches outside city hall. That’s where I got fired up. That’s where I decided I had the power too – to stand up for my rights. I recently felt backhanded, under the covers hate on the job because of being gay. And timing couldn’t have been better for me to open my mouth in retaliation.

At the time I worked for Mobile Mini Inc., a national storage container and office rental/purchase company. In less than a year I worked my way up the ranks to be the Central Florida branch’s top sales associate. I was also quickly climbing the company’s national sales ranks. I was doing quite well.

During my tenure a new branch manager, Roy Ellis was promoted from an out of state branch. Roy had been a leading sales representative with the company for several years. He was in his 60’s, a heavy smoker, virtually computer illiterate and quite short tempered (mostly because he hadn’t the first clue how to manage those in his charge). There were many, many occasions when Roy would page me and ask me to come into his office to help him navigate an indecomposable Excel spreadsheet. Every time I would reluctantly go, sometimes taking more than thirty minutes explaining the most germane elements of the software. Each time I spent giving 101 lessons to my boss I lost valuable time on the phones earning my living.

Mind you, especially back then I had an opinion about everything. If I didn’t agree with a decision this incompetent man made I would respectfully voice my thoughts. This wasn’t something Roy wanted to balance with all the apparent stress he had to deal with due to his technical incompetence and clueless state of leadership. But after giving so much of my time to train the trainer I was doubly offended when a co-worker told me one day that due to the friction Roy and I experienced he vented to her, “I want to fire that fucking queer.”

I was stunned. I totally had one of those, ‘this can’t be real’ moments. I really didn’t believe it at first. I wanted to shrug it off as mere gossip. Then, in a conversation with another coworker who was also present when the comment was made I was reassured that this was in fact real. This was something I had to deal with. And though I had to accept this was said I remember not feeling much of anything. It was as if I knew to do the right thing I had to report this incident to human resources and have an investigation conducted but there was something inside me that automatically disconnected the comment from me. I almost gave him the benefit of the doubt – ‘He knows not what he did.’ And I think through all that ensued I kept part of that sentiment with me.

If I was black and he said “I want to fire that fucking nigger”, would I have felt the same way? Wouldn’t anyone who was the recipient of a racial comment automatically have a gut wrenching feeling? Why didn’t I have that feeling about his equally offensive comment? Don’t answer yet. I have an interactive activity at the end of this blog. Take a few moments there to tackle these questions.

So, yes I filed a complaint with HR. And yes, both coworkers who witnessed the comment along with Roy denied the incident took place (surprise!). And no, I had no legal recourse to pursue because Central Florida did not (and still does not outside the city of Orlando) protect LGBT people from such hate speech on the job.

Though I disconnected emotionally from the incident itself, I was inspired enough to get involved with the chapter 57 fight. I helped get a billboard erected across from city hall urging city council to vote yes. I spoke out on radio and television to educate the public and encourage them to make their voices heard. I did all this all the while knowing a. the inclusion of sexual orientation into the city code did not affect me and my situation because I worked outside the city limits and b. I was putting myself at greater risk of losing my job speaking out so publicly. I hadn’t fully internalized Roy’s comment, but I definitely was very afraid about speaking out. I remember that vividly.

I also remember vividly how I felt as I stood in front of city council the day of the vote. I was given my sixty seconds of comment along with hundreds of other citizens before our elected officials were to decide the fate of an entire group of people. I stared city council and the mayor in the eyes and nervously told them I didn’t want to live in a city that does not protect people like me. I was not asking for special rights. I vaguely shared that I was recently discriminated on the job, but I was too afraid to share with them the details of what happened. I just wanted to have recourse so if an incident like mine happened again I could have the law on my side.

Had I to do it over again, I would have told them exactly why they needed to include sexual orientation into the city code. I would have said, at risk of losing my job that two witnesses told me recently my boss said about me, “I want to fire that fucking queer.”

I leave you with this…

How do you feel when I say the following? Do any of these make you jump out of your skin more than others? And if so, why do you think that is?

I want to fire that fucking woman.

I want to fire that fucking man.

I want to fire that fucking spic.

I want to fire that fucking nigger.

I want to fire that fucking kike.

I want to fire that fucking queer.

I want to fire that fucking redneck.

I want to fire that fucking kid.

I want to fire that fucking grandpa.

I want to fire that fucking wop.

I want to fire that fucking dike.

I want to fire that fucking fake woman.

I want to fire that fucking fake man.

Thanks for reading.

Alan L. Bounville

PS Adding sexual orientation to chapter 57’s protections passed by a 4-3 vote. Now only if gender identity were added – and if all of Central Florida embraced the same overdue protections…