On One Hand

November 18, 2009

Anti-harrassment politicies “discriminate” against harrasers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:19 pm
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This is the kind of stuff that LGBT people live with and face in the workplace every day.

It’s also another example of what I meant when I complained a few weeks ago about the way LGBT people’s lives are endlessly politicized in social interactions as well as on the national stage.

Peter Vidala, age 24, was fired from his job at a bookstore in Boston’s Logan Airport for telling a regional manager that he didn’t agree with her “so-called homosexual fiance,” or more specifically, that she had one, and that she mentioned that she had one.

Vidala is a straight, conservative Christian man who felt that being fired was victimization on the basis of his religious belief. But Vidala’s claim, unlike most claims of discrimination, was given an audience: Vidala got a chance to speak through the news to explain his whole plight to the country.

In Vidala’s doesn’t even pause to think that most people consider talking about their family a part of a normal conversation, instead arguing it was she, not he, who politicized the workplace.

“This woman repeatedly, and without any kind of provocation on my part, kept making references to this out-of-work homosexual behavior that she takes part in,” Vidala explains, “by bringing up this so-called homosexual fiance that she has. And I don’t believe that controversial issues like that have any place, especially in the Boston workplace, where, you know, it’s such a hot-button issue, um… yeah.”

So in other words, LGBT people have no right to talk about their personal lives, because their personal lives are so political.

It’s comforting that even on Fox News the anchor clearly isn’t really buying it.

His response: “If you were concerned about controversial issues in your Boston workplace, why did you, in turn, raise it with her, yourself?”

Vidala’s response: “Peter, oh, Peter, I uh…”

This is the kind of stuff that people of any minority status: women, people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities or religious minorities, have to deal with constantly. By joining conversations about personal lives with mention of our own, we are accused of “making people uncomfortable” or bringing up politics. By correcting homophobic, sexist or racist language, we are similarly accused of bringing politics in, this time to an even greater degree, even though the original language was clearly far more “political” than our own expression of nonparticipation in that language.

My guess is that Vidala’s publicly-stated opinion on the matter is not so much a product of his own values and upbringing as his attempt to appropriate anti-discrimination language to his own benefit, and failing. I doubt he so much felt oppressed “as a Christian” by his coworker’s comments as he saw an opportunity to preach his own values, and brought up his own oppression after he got fired.

Still, dominant majority groups with the most power often claim to be oppressed by minority groups trying to make room for themselves, as is the case when conservatives say that legalizing same-sex marriage “shoves it down our throats” or that public acceptance of LGBT people is discrimination against Christians.

In a previous interview with Fox, Vidala told reporters that “In general, I believe people don’t want to hear about controversial issues like that in the workplace. They shouldn’t have to,” referencing his own right to not hear that his coworker has a fiance of the same sex. This is tantamount to saying that people of minority status aren’t allowed to talk about themselves while everyone else is allowed to. This is Vidala’s definition of “nondiscrimination,” which is, in essence, discrimination.

Luckily this is a battle the LGBT people seem to have won, though Vidala won too by getting national attention. But in everyday battles, all across the world, where we are accused of making people uncomfortable by virtue of our existence, the outcomes are more subtle, and often much less favorable.

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2 Comments »

  1. I wish I was as eloquent as you! Then I could confidently defend my points of view against irrational people in “controversial matters” like this.

    Comment by lewger — November 19, 2009 @ 8:25 am | Reply

  2. Politics doesn’t excuse him from being a jackass. He can think whatever he wants about his boss and her partner, but that doesn’t give him the freedom to say so. It goes both ways: she should give him no trouble about being a fundamentalist Christian, he should give her no trouble about being gay. Peaceful co-existence.

    Comment by arazel — November 19, 2009 @ 10:34 pm | Reply


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