I had been working at a certain high-priced, gimmicky ice cream franchise for almost a year when I realized that I needed a change. I was a junior in high school and the continuous streams of “I bet you love your job because you get to work with ice cream all day!” and “SEVEN DOLLARS?! FOR AN ICE CREAM CONE!?” began to grow tiresome. That, and the fact that the most of the female employees, including the only black girl, had just been fired for no reason at all, only caused me to assume that the only homo, myself, was set to get axed next.
Even though I had trouble being nice to and becoming friends with my new manager and all of the other 8th-year college seniors who enjoyed secretly watching football on the office computer and sending pictures of their shits to each other, I was able to avoid being voted off the frozen ice cream island for a period of time because the owner happened to be friends with my dad in high school.
Despite the owner’s friendship with my dad, he wanted “a Christian work environment” and I didn’t fit that mold. One day when I missed work (for the first time ever) because of a severe snowstorm, ice-covered streets, and a lack of electricity, my prediction became a reality: I was “let go.” I didn’t really care; my old manager who was planning to promote me to a junior supervising role had just left a few months before and since then my hours had been slowly cut to the point where I was only working one four-hour shift a week, making room for my new manager’s friends on the schedule.
I was slightly relieved and as a more apathetic than not teenager burnt out on school and a job that involved serving painfully rude customers, I didn’t take the situation to heart. I was 17 and fortunate enough to not need a part-time job to make ends meet. But since I enjoyed working and making my own small, disposable income, I looked for another job. Myself and two friends, one of whom I worked at Cold Stone with, applied to a new smoothie shop getting ready to open in our town’s mall.
The owner liked my application and called me in for an interview. I thought the interview went well. I had the experience he was looking for, my availability lined up with the shifts he needed filled, and I was personable and friendly.
My straight female friend who I had previously worked with, and had applied for the smoothie job alongside me, also got an interview. She got a call back and got a job offer. I never got a call back.
I didn’t think much of the failure; I was busy with school and applying to other jobs. “He probably had enough people already hired,” I thought. But once my friend started working she realized why I didn’t get hired alongside her. “He marks the applications “no’ if you’re black or gay,” she said.
I was shocked. Even though I grew up in a mildly conservative Christian city in the Midwest, I had never felt so blatantly discriminated against. I knew that many people were racist and homophobic, but didn’t think that they would actually take their bigotry this far, to deny someone a paying job. We talked about how his actions had to be illegal (it is in fact legal to discriminate against someone in the workplace for being gay in Indiana), that we should do some sting operation and get him in legal trouble. But we were 17-years-old and like every other grand scheme we concocted over lunch, it fell by the wayside and never came to fruition.
Like my recent “letting go,” I can’t say that I felt particularly angry over being discriminated against after I got over my initial surprise. The smoothie shop didn’t take long to go out of business, I’m sure the owner took a negative financial hit, and I can’t help but sometimes believe is a bit of karma. The job also wasn’t vital to my life. The $80 dollars I would make weekly would go to after school fast food snacks and new clothes. Even if I had filed a discrimination suit, I wouldn’t have won since it’s legal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation in Indiana, as well as 28 other states.
Looking back on the incident, I should’ve said something. I should’ve done something. But when you’re a gay 17-year-old who’s been under the command of bigots for years, you give up on the tiny things. Unfortunately, this was just another day growing up gay in southern Indiana.
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image via Flickr user khawkins04