I’d like to begin by being very clear on one point. I quit my job. I wasn’t fired; I quit. I don’t think that this fact necessarily changes a great deal about what happened to me at work Friday, but I don’t want to be accused of false reporting. I did this.
On Friday afternoon, I quit my job at Stuckey Farm. I quit because of the bigotry that I was facing and that they supported. I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised, but I am incredibly disappointed.
Like many people I know who grew up in the greater Indianapolis area, I grew up visiting Stuckey Farm. Stuckey Farm (not to be confused with the Stuckey Corporation, which seems to be some sort of roadside shop) is a farm and orchard in Sheridan, Indiana, which is a small town, nestled between Zionsville and Westfield. Stuckey Farm is prominently known because it’s a you-pick apple orchard, a fun family activity where people bring their kids to pick apples, learn about bees, and shop. Certain times of year, there are also tractor rides to a pumpkin patch and corn maze. They make great apple cider in-house, which they sell both in their store and at a number of other farms and orchards around the area. I went to Stuckey about a month ago with some family. We took my young cousin apple picking and really had a lovely time. As I was leaving, I saw that they were hiring, and, as I was looking for work in farming and food industry jobs, I applied. This seemed like a great fit. I was excited to come and work at this place that I’d grown up visiting and enjoying.
When I was hired, I was informed of the dress code: Jeans and any sweater or t-shirt without profanity.
I had a great time. I met a number of really lovely people who work there. And, other than some long hours and the low pay that’s fairly standard across the industry (which is another discussion for another blog post), I was really enjoying my job.
I performed well at my job over the last several weeks. I worked on stocking shelves and processing food for sale. I helped bottle cider and I worked the register at the weekend Snack Bar. I found my work interesting, I felt good at what I was doing, and I enjoyed the people with whom I worked.
This Friday, like every day, I wore a t-shirt to work, with no profanity on it, as well as a zip up hoodie, as mornings have been chilly. That day, my shirt read “Legalize Gay.” As the day started to warm up, I removed my jacket, as I did most days. My coworkers
saw my shirt. My boss saw my shirt. No one said anything to me about it.
In mid-afternoon, my manager pulled me aside and told me that a number of customers had complained. They found my t-shirt offensive. I was told I needed to cover up my shirt and put my hoodie back on.
I told her that I was very uncomfortable with that request, that my shirt bore no profanity and that I didn’t understand why I ought to bend to bigots. She told me that this is what the company needed me to do. I needed to put the hoodie back on. I stood there a moment in stunned silence, and, not wanting to be too rash, I walked away and collected my jacket. I stepped back out onto the floor to greet my stunned coworkers, hoodie on, but unzipped, with the text still legible.
I was furious. I was hurt. I was sad. I felt angry, and I felt insignificant, and I felt shamed. I was so sad that this company, this place where I had come to feel very comfortable and very happy working, had decided to support the bigotry of their customers.
I stayed out on the floor, jacket on and shirt visible, for about an hour while I went back to work. I waited to be reprimanded again. I cried. I did my job… until finally I couldn’t do it anymore. I went back to my manager’s office.
I told her that I could not, in good conscience, keep working with my jacket on, and I could not, in good conscience, keep working for a company that valued the sensitivities of bigoted customers over the sensitivities of their employees. I reviewed the terms of the dress code with her – any t-shirt without profanity. “This shirt falls well within your dress code; there’s nothing profane about the text of this shirt,” I told her. “Nevertheless,” she replied, “some of our customers have found it offensive.” “Then they’re bigots,” I said, “they’re on the other side of a civil rights issue, that doesn’t make my shirt bad or profane.” Her response to me was that “the Orchard doesn’t want to take a side on this issue,” so they were going to stand by their policy. I told her that I was pretty sure the Orchard just took a side. She explained to me that “customers complained, and I’m just doing my job, this is what I was told to tell you.”
Five minutes later, I walked off the job. There was no reason to appeal the decision; it had come from the top.
I understand that in conservative Indiana, marriage equality is something of a hot-button issue. I find it disturbing, but I understand it. I know that what Stuckey Farm intended by saying “we don’t want to take a side on this issue” is that they didn’t want to lose customers by taking a stand either way, and that’s fine. I don’t expect them to print up t-shirts that say “Stuckey Farm Supports Marriage Equality,” but that’s not what my shirt said. Just as the “American Idiot” shirt I wore last week doesn’t suggest that my employer is a Green Day fan, neither does my “Legalize Gay” shirt suggest my employer takes a stance on marriage equality. Had that been Stuckey’s response to these complaints, everything would be fine. Instead, they took a stand by requiring me to cover my shirt.
Stuckey was afraid of losing business due to the bigoted nature of some of their customers. I don’t believe they considered the possibility of losing customers because of their support of this bigotry.
I do believe that financial repercussions can be very powerful, and that is why I ask that if you are LGBTQ or an Ally, that you reconsider supporting or shopping at Stuckey Farm this season and in future seasons.