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Trans Woman Repeatedly Misgendered by Staff at Benton Harbor Walmart

Jason A. Michael
By | 2018-11-28T16:35:47-04:00 November 28th, 2018|Michigan, News|

It was supposed to be a quick run to pick up a few groceries, but when Jacqueline Street, a trans woman, stopped into the Walmart in Benton Harbor on Nov. 15, she got more than just bread and milk at an unbeatable price. Street said she was discriminated against and repeatedly misgendered while attempting to check out.
“It was an uneventful trip until I went to the checkout,” Street recalled. “I got done checking out and the cashier said, ‘Here you go, sir,’ and handed me my change. I said, ‘No, it’s ma’am,’ and she said, ‘No, it’s sir.’”
Street asked to speak with a manager but when the supervisor on duty arrived, she provided no comfort.
“She said to me, ‘The reason why she called you ‘sir’ is because you’re a man,” said Street. “Then she turned around and walked away.”
Street was mortified.
“It made me feel horrible, less than human,” she said. “I was very angry. That cashier that called me ‘sir’ and then ‘sir’ again wasn’t too bad. But the manager’s response, that’s what really blew me away.”
So, flustered, Street left the store without getting any names or identifying information for the clerk or the supervisor.
“I was in shock over everything that had just occurred,” she said. “I didn’t think to get names or anything.”
Once she had calmed down, what Street did think to do was to call the OutCenter to report the incident. In a media blast the center sent out, Mary Jo Schnell, the center’s executive director, called on Walmart to address the incident and take action.
“The OutCenter stands behind Jackie and the entire transgender community,” Schnell said in the blast. “This is an example of the type of aggression trans women and men face while simply trying to go about their daily lives. The treatment Jackie received at Walmart Benton Harbor was not only unacceptable on a professional level, but needlessly cruel. The OutCenter is asking Walmart to take this incident of discrimination and harassment seriously with their staff and take appropriate action.”
After seeing the media blast, Heather Kraus, an LGBT ally with a trans son, wrote a letter to store general manager Adella Wells and hand delivered it to her on Nov. 20, which was Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“I handed her my letter and told her I was there to discuss something that had happened last Tuesday,” said Kraus. “She hadn’t been notified. She was really quite pleasant. She seemed to me to be honest in what she was saying. She apologized, in total I would say three or four times over our conversation. She said she does not want anyone to be treated like that in her store.”
Schnell is just returning this week from being on vacation. She said she plans to reach out to Wells this week, as well as try to reach someone on a district level.
“[Wells] has an estimated day and time that this happened,” said Schnell. “So, our hope is she spends the necessary time to discover who did this, the clerk and the supervisor, because both behaviors were abominable. I hope that there will be consequences.”
For her part, Street said she hopes the store manager will take some action, too.
“I guess what I want out of this is just to have them implement some training for their employeres and managers on how to treat LGBT customers so that something like this doesn’t happen to somebody else in the future,” she said. “I don’t expect everyone to accept me. It would be nice but not realistic. I do, however, expect to be treated with respect like anyone should be.”
Between the Lines reached out to Wells but did not hear back before going to press.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.