THE BLOG

This Is What Discrimination Feels Like

02/27/2014 10:43 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

A number of years ago, my husband Brian and I were shopping. A window advertisement in a mattress store caught our eye. We had recently moved in together and we needed a bigger mattress. The store's signs were inviting, offering up big sales. We walked in and tossed a "Hello" in the direction of the salesman who was seated at a desk on the other side of the large showroom. He did not acknowledge our greeting. We assumed that he had not heard us, although this was unlikely. There were no other people or distractions. But, we were there to look at mattresses not to make a friend, so we went about the business of sitting and laying on some of the dozens of mattresses. We were filled with questions. Spring or foam? Pillowtop? Which brands were best? Which were on sale?

As we debated our preferences, the salesman ignored us. This was odd. We were customers interested in mattresses, this was a mattress store and there were no other patrons. "Is this one on sale?" we yelled over when we identified one that we both liked. He turned and stared at us. Rather, he glared at us. "No," he grunted and turned away again. Brian and I both registered the disdain, but said nothing to each other. We continued hopping onto a few more mattresses to assess comfort levels, discussing the options. We tried again, "How about these?" This time, he did not turn around. He grunted a "no."

We left the showroom. Somehow, although there were no other people in the store, we felt humiliated. Although the salesman barely spoke to us, the glare we received from him spoke volumes. I hate you, it said. You disgust me. You do not deserve my attention. You are insignificant. Get out.

That glare brought me back to elementary school, when it was time to pick teams for a game in gym class. One person after another is chosen, but not me. The team captains choose all the desirable players, and I am the last one left. One captain feels stuck having to place me on his team. I feel worthless. No one wants me. No one likes me. I am not good enough.

More recently, after Brian and I had moved into our new home, we went to a home supplies store to look at sinks. We needed to replace ours and wanted to price some double basin sinks. This was one of those giant warehouse-type stores, so it was difficult to find a worker to help us. We wandered over to a kitchen display area and found a salesman seated at a desk. He looked up at us. There it was again -- the glare. We felt the hatred without a word spoken. "Can you tell us where the sinks are, please?" I mustered. "Down that aisle," he managed to say while nodding his head in a vague direction. He went back to looking at his work on the desk, sending a clear signal that that was all the help he was going to provide.

These examples of discrimination are subtle. I have endured more overt harm. Once, a drunken frat boy punched me in the back of the head on a dare. Another time, I was waiting for a bus on a city street corner and someone in a passing car splashed a big cup of soda in my face and laughed. In these instances, there was physical pain or discomfort, but inwardly I felt the same as when those salesmen glared at me.

There are states now considering legalizing the discrimination we felt in the mattress store. The justification is "religious freedom."

It is not religious freedom. It is hatred, pure and simple.

That mattress salesman, that home supplies salesman, they HATED us. They were not exercising some religious principle when they glared and spewed at us. They judged and condemned Brian and I on sight, without knowing anything about us.

To the governors, senators and representatives of the states that are considering legalizing discrimination, please consider these bills carefully. There is no attack or war on religion in our country. There have been a mere handful of legal cases against a baker or a photographer who did not want to provide services for gay weddings. Compare that to the hundreds or thousands of people in the LGBT community that are bullied, humiliated, belittled on a daily basis. There are gay teens committing suicide because they could not bear those glares any more. These laws, which are being touted as protection for religious freedom, intend to institutionalize hatred. Religion is protected in this country. In some states, gay people are not. Think about who needs genuine help, not about pandering for votes.