No Bigotry With My Big Gulp!

Signage for the 7-Eleven convenience-store is displayed in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, April 5, 2012. Seven & I Holdings Co.,
Signage for the 7-Eleven convenience-store is displayed in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, April 5, 2012. Seven & I Holdings Co., owner of the 7-Eleven convenience-store brand, said full-year profit may rise 19 percent as it adds new stores in Japan and overseas. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Recently I stopped by my neighborhood 7-Eleven convenience store and found myself taking a big gulp when I encountered overt transphobia with a side of woman bashing. I witnessed a clerk use the word "tranny" while telling an anecdote to a co-worker and at least one customer. This was after a lengthy conversation about "fat women" and gastric bypass surgery that took place while I was in line.

As I approached the exit, I heard this employee say, "This guy, you know, the tranny who comes in here--"

I immediately turned and said, "Did you just say 'tranny'?"

He responded with a mumbled "sorry" and a smirk. The entire store went silent. I told him that "sorry" isn't sufficient when you smirk, and that the term "tranny" is offensive and demeaning and not appropriate in a business. He turned and ran into the back. I asked the other clerks for his name, and they told me that it was "Bee." (They spelled it out that way, but according to corporate, it's Brandon.) I then asked if there was a manager around. There was not, so I left.

That's pretty vile, but my attempts to engage 7-Eleven, at both the franchise level and the corporate level, proved more discouraging. I filed a complaint that afternoon. It took a while to figure out that it is a franchise and then find any identifying information about the franchise owners. Five days later I followed up with corporate, and they followed up with the franchisee, and it boiled down to these few points:
  • The employee, Brandon, admitted that he'd used the word "tranny" but said that it was a personal conversation that I'd overheard.
  • The franchise owner refused my (reasonable) request to meet to discuss the matter and my concerns.
  • Corporate would have no further comment.

My proposed response is for two people from my neighborhood to join me and the franchise owner, Liz, for a conversation about the incident and the surrounding events, and to brainstorm how to make sure that this store is safe and welcoming for all people. The neighbors I invited include a gay male pastor from a neighborhood church and a trans male activist, both of whom live nearby. We just want to talk it out.

So why does this matter outside Pittsburgh, Pa.?

First, the corporate office is well aware of the situation and needs to realize that most people don't stop and think, "Oh, that's a franchise situation, not a reflection on the corporation." Instead, they get a negative impression of the brand itself, so corporate has a vested interest in facilitating a positive resolution.

Second, one of the regional people who spoke with me didn't know what the term "tranny" meant and even asked me how to spell it. When I offered her a few comparable terms ("f*g" and "c*nt"), she was shocked but still didn't really understand. Now, I know for certain that 7-Eleven has trans customers, and I'd bet that it has more than a few trans employees, so this ignorance is a bit odd.

Third, everyone has a connection to Pittsburgh. We call it the "Steeler Nation": People all over the world love our city (and the Steelers). Your grandma lives here. You want to college here. You came to Pride or Netroots Nation or Creating Change here. So you have an interest in creating a safe and welcoming business community in Pittsburgh.

Finally, these are the moments that can really matter in the effort to push back against transphobia and tell corporate America that it needs to do better. Members of the LGBTQ media, including me, spent hours analyzing and reporting on the brutal murder of our trans sister Ce Ce Dove and the ensuing hack job by many of the Cleveland, Ohio, media outlets. I'm tired of demanding justice for my dead sisters and brothers, people who are tossed out of their homes, kids living on streets and people losing services. I want to prevent it, or at least some of it.

I have no idea whether anyone else in that 7-Eleven store was part of the trans community, but I'm glad that each person who was there heard someone speak up and say that that conversation was not acceptable.

Umstott, Inc., and 7-Eleven cannot abdicate their responsibility to create a safe and welcoming store environment by blaming the franchise model. This is the same line of reasoning that we hear when franchises around the nation threaten to avoid providing heath insurance to their employees, or to donate to anti-LGBT legislative efforts.

Enough. All we want is a conversation before we end up with another bashing or another death or another youth living under the Roberto Clemente Bridge. (That's the one near PNC Park, if you are unfamiliar, and yes, I invoke Robert's name on purpose.) Is that too much to ask?

Please sign my petition asking the franchise owners of this 7-Eleven store to meet with community members to discuss this incident.