by: Marcia Prichason
It was 1982. The country was in a recession. Interest rates were soaring above 15%, and the State of Illinois began closing state facilities to conserve resources. My husband was relocated.
I stayed behind to try to sell a house that couldn’t possibly go in that abysmal market. But with a seven year old in school and a new baby, it seemed like a logical decision at the time. Dad came home on weekends, but putting our lives on hold took its toll.
After nine months of trying desperately to sell, we decided to rent our house and move to the new location. That accomplished, I needed to find a job. In a tough economy, that is easier said than done.
Finally, I found employment as a writer with a franchise development firm. I began crafting operations manuals for new franchises. It involved extensive travel, the ability to establish rapport with both entrepreneurs and their employees, and the fortitude to crank out an individualized manual that could easily be followed by anyone making minimum wage. I loved the work.
Soon, I was promoted to Director of the department; I continued to write manuals, but additionally, I supervised a group of writers. Part of my responsibilities involved hiring new employees. I sifted through hundreds of applications to find the right “match.” I interviewed countless people. I collected writing samples. I checked references. When I felt I had a viable candidate, the Vice President of the company conducted a second interview. Usually, the candidate I selected was the candidate who was hired.
I had been in the role of Director for several years when, again in need of a writer, I interviewed a man from Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He had all the qualifications we were seeking, interviewed extremely well, was impeccably groomed, and had excellent references. Following protocol, I sent him forward for his second interview, and he was hired.
Two weeks later, he reported for work as scheduled. He had already moved from Ft. Wayne and signed a lease in Illinois. But something was wrong. I was called into a meeting with the owner and told that my new writer would not be starting. He was given two weeks’ severance pay and, despite the young man begging to keep his job and pleading for a reason he could not begin employment, he was ushered out the door.
I was distraught. What could have occurred to cause him to be fired before he was even hired? Someone told me he was gay. I didn’t know what that could possibly have to do with his ability to do the job. But apparently, the business owner did. Or, maybe it was something else. His son, the Vice President, although married to his high school sweetheart, was rumored to be a homosexual. Was the boss simply making a misbegotten attempt to shield his grown son from a furtive liaison? I could only surmise, then, that he was more concerned with outward appearances than with his inward disposition; somehow, he must have felt that the young man from Indiana posed a real threat to the stability of his family and his business.
Eventually and not soon enough, I left that firm for other ventures. I have never regretted leaving there. I am haunted, however, by what happened that day when a man was shown the door for no other reason than maybe…possibly…he was gay.
That experience taught me first-hand how ugly discrimination is. It turns the perpetrators into vile, evil creatures who feel threatened by what they don’t understand. It scars the victims in countless ways. And, it torments the bystander who cannot do anything to change the course of events.
Now, years later, I want to believe that the man from Indiana found a better situation and that he is out there, somewhere, happy. I fantasize that he will magically appear at the Pride parade. Maybe this year, he’ll be on a float, or in the crowd, or walking with me celebrating the ability to say loudly and boldly that who I am should be no threat to who you are.
Because, really, everyone deserves to find meaningful employment based on their abilities, to openly express who they are, and most importantly, to take their own path in life without fearing that anyone else’s sense of self is threatened. It’s not that hard, really, to be accepting; it just takes a happy inward disposition of mind.
Note: This piece was originally featured on The Qu and was republished with permission. You can find the original here.