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June 21, 2011

GLAA to Safeway: Moving forward with D.C.'s LGBT community

From: Richard J. Rosendall
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2011 10:37 PM
To: 'greg.teneyck'; 'donna.maxwell'; 'henry.bash'; 'steve.neibergall'; 'brian.dowling'
Cc: Andy Litsky
Subject: To Safeway: Moving forward with D.C.'s LGBT community

Dear Safeway Executives:

We in the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance followed with interest the news stories on local websites such as Metro Weekly concerning the recent incident in the Safeway store in Southwest D.C. in which a cashier used an anti-gay epithet to insult gay customers Jason Morgan and Brendan Harrington. The right attitude was expressed by Craig Muckle, manager of public affairs and public relations at your Eastern Division, in announcing that the offending employee had been terminated: ''This goes against everything we believe and practice in terms of serving and welcoming our customers, and in being a part of the diverse communities we are privileged to serve.''

To convey how impressed we are with your corporate response so far, let me describe how we got involved. On Thursday evening, June 16, I sent an action alert to GLAA's email list consisting of our friend and fellow activist Andy Litsky's email urging a firm response by Safeway executives. One of our community's most respected members, Deacon Maccubbin, told me that he and his husband Jim Bennett had sent you a message. Twelve minutes later he sent me this follow-up:

"About 10 minutes after sending my own emails to the 4 Safeway executives, I got a call from one of them (not sure who because it was a bad cell connection). He first apologized, said the whole incident was terribly embarrassing for Safeway, assured me that the offending employee has now been terminated and additional steps are being taken with the acting assistant manager who was on duty at the time (who allegedly failed to mention the matter to any supervisor until 2 days had lapsed)."

It is hard to remember such a fast response from another business under similar circumstances. Your response contrasts markedly and favorably, for example, with that of a supermarket from a different chain in East Orange, New Jersey, after a similar incident. In that case, which I learned about from a friend who lives in that area, those who complained about a violent anti-gay threat by an employee were met with complete unresponsiveness from corporate executives. Of course we have the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA) on our side here, but it is always preferable to deal with enlightened executives.

GLAA has succeeded best by building constructive relationships. Since our founding in 1971 we have been involved in virtually every legal advance for LGBT people in our city; but as an active stakeholder in the city you can appreciate that the District’s diverse communities are our most powerful instruments of progress. Outsiders came here last year seeking to divide us along lines of race, religion, and class over the issue of marriage equality, and their attempts to inflame our electorate failed miserably. We are naturally eager to preserve what the good people of Washington have made possible here.

It is in that spirit that I'd like to offer a few suggestions for moving forward in the aftermath of last week's incident. You should conduct a thorough review of your procedures and training with the purpose of (1) preventing similar incidents; (2) fostering a respectful and tolerant environment; and (3) ensuring that should a similar event occur in the future, you have a clear process in place to handle it properly. This starts with LGBT-inclusive diversity and sensitivity training and materials, and continues with clear staff directives as well as supervisory and evaluative follow-through. You should also communicate with your customers by prominently placing posters from the D.C. Office of Human Rights in all of your District stores spelling out people's rights under DCHRA. Here is a link:
http://tinyurl.com/dcrightsposter

An additional way to emphasize your continuing commitment to non-discrimination and your respect for our diverse community, if I may suggest it, might be to consider a charitable donation. Several service-oriented groups based in our community come to mind in that regard. Here are their names and email addresses (and this is by no means an exhaustive list):

Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL)
http://www.smyal.org/contact.php
SupporterInfo@smyal.org

Metro Teen AIDS
http://metroteenaids.org/?page_id=32
chughes@metroteenaids.org

Transgender Health Empowerment
http://www.theincdc.org/contact.html
info@theincdc.org

The D.C. Center
http://www.thedccenter.org/supporters.html
contact@thedccenter.org

Again, we appreciate your constructive response to the incident in the Southwest D.C. store after the initial mishandling of it. Together we can keep D.C. the special place it is, and help make it even better for all of its residents. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Rick Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
P.O. Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013
(202) 667-5139 (voicemail)
www.glaa.org

Update: We have received the following response from Greg Teneyck at Safeway:

Rick:

Thanks very much for reaching out to us with your comments and thoughtful suggestions. They are very much appreciated. I can assure you that we will be considering them in our response to the incident and in our ongoing relationship with the LGBT community.

Greg

Update 2: Frank Kameny sent this response:

Excellent.

In my own local Safeway, on MacArthur Boulevard. my relevant background is known to the entire management from the supervisory managers down through the checkout clerks to the stock people. They are invariably cordial.to me and to the people who live in my house, with no trace of negativism or homophobia.

I suppose there are occasional rotten apples in every barrel, but this one employee in Southwest certainly is not typical of my Safeway experience, and Safeway itself seems to be handling the situation well.

Frank Kameny

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