Why You Can’t Just Go to Another Clerk or Bakery
By Allison Steinberg
You wake up to the awful clamoring of the alarm clock, hit the snooze button, and drift back into a light sleep. You dream of a beautiful field of wildflowers, rich with color and bright sunlight; you can almost smell the ripeness of the flora and feel your toes in the freshly cut green grass. All of a sudden, a giant fence with sharp pikes explodes out of the ground just inches from your nose. Your path is blocked. You can’t get through.
The alarm goes off again, this time waking you in a cold sweat. You jump out of bed, shake the unsettled feeling from your dream-turned-nightmare and hop in the shower. You get the kids ready, making their lunches and feeding them breakfast, with lots of kisses and tickling to spare. You kiss your wife goodbye—it’s her day to drop the kids off—and set out to work.
As you’re waiting for the city bus, you notice a man behind you in line staring at you with a look of contempt on his face. You shrug it off. It’s probably not personal. The bus arrives and you board, pay your fare, and proceed to find a seat. The driver calls you to come forward. Did I pay the wrong amount, you wonder?
“I don’t allow your kind on my bus,” the driver says. “Get off my bus.”
You’re too bewildered to even argue. He opens the door, you step off. You stand on the curb and watch as your ride to work leaves you behind. The man who stared at you presses his face to the window and gives you the middle finger, a nasty smile on his face.
Incredibly hurt, but with no time to truly contemplate, you start off on foot for work. You power walk the whole way and realize you have a couple of minutes to spare, so you head to a bakery down the street from your job to grab a cup of coffee.
“No coffee for you,” said the bakery owner. “We don’t serve your kind here.”
Filled with shock and sadness, you leave the store sans coffee and head to your desk to start your workday. You’re clearly frazzled but chalk it up to a bad morning and focus on your tasks at hand.
Your wife texts you around noon. The kids are both sick. Must have caught a stomach bug. I’m stuck at work. Can you pick them up from school and take them to the doctor right away?
You’re filled with worry about your poor, sick kids. They seemed fine this morning. You hurry to finish up the assignment you’re working on and approach your boss’s office. You tell your boss that your kids are sick and your wife is unable to get them, and ask if you can leave early to take care of them.
“Your wife?” Your boss says and looks at you with the same disgust the stranger on the bus did earlier.
“I didn’t know you were that kind of person. Get out of my office. Clean out your desk. We don’t pay your kind here.”
Did the boss just fire me?
You are stunned to the point of non-recognition. You don’t know what to say. Despite the anger you feel rising up in you, you realize what’s most important is that you get to your kids. You turn around and leave the office, your fast walk turning into a run as you leave the building. You’re too afraid to take the bus, so you continue running through the streets, tears streaming down your face and onto your work outfit.
You arrive at the kids’ school and pick them up. They don’t look great. They still feel sick. You try to put on a happy face to make them feel better and tell them it’s going to be all right.
Risking rejection, you hail a cab and head to the doctor’s office. When the cab pulls up to the office and you pay, you feel a sense of relief that one part of your day went off without incident.
You fill out the forms in the waiting room while your children glumly sit in the corner, a sign that they are truly not feeling well. You wrack your brain about what you fed them in the past 24 hours that might have made them sick. The doctor comes out and discreetly asks to speak with you without the children. You wonder what’s going on, but approach the doctor, who, in a low voice, tells you that he can’t help you or your kids. He has nothing against your kind, but he doesn’t believe in your type of family and doesn’t feel comfortable treating your kids.
At this point, of course, it starts raining. No, pouring. The rain is pounding the pavement and you’ve got no umbrella. Your kids are sick. The doctor won’t treat them because of who you are. You’ve lost your job because of it. You haven’t even had your goddamned cup of coffee because the baker won’t serve you because of who you love.
You don’t know where to turn to. You realize the law is not on your side. It was perfectly legal for your boss to fire you, for the bus driver and the baker to turn you away, for the doctor to deny treating your children.
When your children and you are home and dried off later that night, you call your friend and tell her what happened. She says it’s not a big deal. Why can’t you just find another doctor? Why can’t you just go down the street to the baker who will serve you?
With your eyes wide open, in a complete waking state, those wrought iron metal gates with 3-foot-tall spikes on the top from your nightmare jut out from beneath your floorboards and start to grow around you until you’re completed surrounded by them. You can see freedom on the other side, but you have no idea how you’re going to get there.
In 31 states, there are no laws that explicitly say it’s illegal to fire someone, kick them out of their home, or deny them service in places like stores or even hospitals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.* No one deserves to be treated like a second-class citizen just because of who they are.
Allison Steinberg is a communications strategist at the ACLU.