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On the job discrimination: are we working it out?

Thu 2 May 2013 In: True Stories View at NDHA

Since a McDonald’s worker revealed he was told not to ‘act so gay’ by a manager, similar tales have come in showing homophobia is simmering away in some of our workplaces - and transphobia is boiling over. Ronald doesn't seem to have any issues with Sean Bailey The issue has been pushed into the spotlight by Quay St McDonald’s worker Sean Bailey. He’s taking a personal grievance case and planning a ‘Turn McDonald’s Gay Day’ kiss-in after he was told by a manager he’d be disciplined if he ‘acted gay’ or tried to 'turn' anyone. The manager was forced to apologise and shunted to a different store. Bailey has the staunch backing of his Unite union rep Joe Carolan, who compares the manager’s comments to telling someone to tone down their Maori-ness or Irish-ness, or to stop being so female. “I come from Ireland, a country where Catholic priests who abused children were moved from parish to parish as a solution,” he tells “And I think McDonald’s have gone for the Catholic Church solution here. Rather than reprimand or fire someone for gross discrimination, they simply moved him to another store. “And I don’t know how gay or lesbian people at that store feel about this manager there. Will it be another couple of months before we have a similar report there?” Carolan says Bailey’s case is not a one-off, but such stories are not often revealed because once a resolution is reached, the details become confidential. “These things pass my desk every month. The ones that we hear about anyway,” he says, sharing the case of another Auckland McDonald’s manager who bullied a gay worker: The worker complained and the manager got what Carolan says was a ‘slap on the wrist’. He was later fired for theft. “He got away with insulting people’s humanity, and that wasn’t seen as a big crime. But he put his fingers in the till and helps himself, and that was immediately a sackable offence. Here we’re saying that money is more important than people. I mean, that’s what I would read into that.” A simple request on our Facebook page quickly brought up other stories of harassment: “I had similar issues with PakNSave in Christchurch when I worked in their bakery. Bumped a bakers tray and he told me ‘watch out queer c*nt’ and then I gave him the finger and he said ‘if you do that again I'll break you finger off and shove it up your arse’. I got a verbal warning for not listening to 2IC. He got nothing.” Rai n Bow are Rainbows End's mascots Then there’s a story from a gay man working at Rainbows End and playing the mascot Rai. “Rai’s character is supposed to be 12-years-old. I was told by a Christian co-worker that I was acting too gay, she even impersonated what I looked like and she flounced around in front of me.” Some people don’t even get a look in for jobs: “I was rejected from a door to door sales job in south Auckland because he feared for my safety in that area. I told him I grew up in south Auckland and have no fear of the streets ... He still declined me.” Drag artists can cop it to, with Colin McLean’s night-time persona of Polly Filla once being brought up when he had a callback for a support role in a government organisation. He was questioned "We know you're a crossdresser, which is fine, we just would like it if you didn't do it during work hours as it may be unacceptable by some of our clients." McLean says apart from being something that had nothing to do with the position he’d applied for, they made a gross generalisation and left him feeling quite angry and embarrassed. “Then and there, I told them to stick the job where the sun don’t shine,” he says. “If a potential employer is going to have that sort of attitude towards something that a) I do in my personal time and b) is just about fun and entertainment, then no thanks, I'd rather not waste my time working for them.” These types of stories are all too common for trans people, who report they can struggle to even be considered for jobs in the first place. “I have had good friends involved in employing employees, who have told me to my face they wouldn’t give me a job,” a transsexual woman shares. “They are fine with me socially, one on one, and the reality is they are worried how their customers would take me and so go for the option where that doesn’t need to be given consideration.” In the Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People in 2008, the majority of submissions to the inquiry that described some form of discrimination focused on the area of employment. The Department of Labour has an excellent guide on the rights of trans workers here, which also has clear advice for employers. The fact is that gay, lesbian and bisexual workers are completely protected from discrimination under the Human Rights Act and Employment Relations Act. While not specifically mentioned, a Crown Law opinion released in 2006 says trans workers are also protected under the Human Rights Act from discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. The push for specific protection continues. If you aren’t happy with how you have been treated, whether in applying for a job or while working, there is plenty you can do. Carolan, as a union man, encourages anyone who is being discriminated against at work to tell their union, who will fight for them and support them. The Council of Trade Unions has an Out@Work network specifically designed with the aim of ending workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. You can get in touch here. You can also make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, which has a disputes resolution service: 0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS (0800 496 877) The Department of Labour offers information on employment issues through its Contact Centre on 0800 20 90 20. You have to raise any grievances within 90 days of the action, or becoming aware of it. The issue can then go to mediation, and if that doesn’t work, the dispute can be referred to the Employment Relations Authority for a decision. And there are positive tales, such as one man who hired a new staff member and was called by his workers at the end of his first shift, with the message the newbie was homophobic and should be fired ASAP. “Two of my (straight) teenage male staff took it upon themselves to pretend they were a gay couple so he'd leave of his own accord. To this day I'm honoured that these guys did that,” he writes. “After talking to him, he told me he'd never met a gay person in his life and had preconceived ideas (thanks heaps gay community for your years of public displays of erotica and in your face promotion of ‘acceptance’) and since then we have become good friends.” Do you have a story you’d like to share? Positive or negative, we’d love to add it to this feature. Email     Jacqui Stanford - 2nd May 2013

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Thursday, 2nd May 2013 - 2:27pm

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