November 7th, 2009
Not every confrontation that a gay person experiences in their life is based on their orientation. But sometimes it is very difficult to see any other possible explanation.
Take the experience that Joe Paolucci, Thomas Hitchcock, and their special need twins had recently with Wal-Mart.
Employees at the Niles, MI Wal-Mart store accused Paolucci of shoplifting some Bic lighters. Although he produced the receipt, they refused to back down, insisting that the two men go to a “detention room”. The employees, using vulgarities and hostility, frightened their special needs kids. (South Bend Tribune)
Paolucci said that while he and Hitchcock were attempting to calm down the boys, the employees ordered them to enter a “detention room” for questioning. Fearful of what might happen behind closed doors, he and Hitchcock refused to enter and asked to speak to a manager.
“Some guy came up and said, ‘I’m the manager,’ then turned around and left,” Hitchcock said.
Paolucci said he and Hitchcock then asked store personnel to call police. Within minutes, deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department’s Niles Township Patrol arrived, pleasing Paolucci who said he thought a few questions and a review of the store’s videotapes and computer records would quickly resolve the matter.
He said he was shocked when he was immediately handcuffed, without a question being asked, and placed in the back seat of a squad car. Hitchcock wasn’t handcuffed but also was placed in the back seat of a second squad car.
The twins, despite the protests of Paolucci and Hitchcock, were turned over to the store’s security personnel, who took them into the “detention room” or what police referred to as a security room.
A review of the security tapes proved that Paolucci and Hitchcock had done no wrong. So the store management profusely apologized and expressed their remose, right? No. They did not.
The two said they expected an apology and were surprised once again when personnel from the store walked up to the squad cars with the twins and read from a statement that Paolucci and Hitchcock had been banned by the store chain for life. Rather than shoplifting, the reason they were given was “being uncooperative.”
By the time they were read the statement, Paolucci and Hitchcock said, the twins had told them that the security staff had allegedly threatened them in the security room and had made disparaging remarks about Paolucci and Hitchcock’s lifestyle. Paolucci and Hitchcock said they asked police to take statements from the boys but the officers refused, telling the couple they’d have to contact Child Protective Services.
Wal-Mart even refused to replace frozen items that had now thawed due to their unprovoked misuse of their customers. Nor did the situation end at the harassment of the couple at the store.
Paolucci said the boys have suffered a type of post-traumatic stress disorder since the experience. Both wet their beds, although one has stopped, and both have had nightmares about one security employee in particular, he said.
“They’re terrified, horrified. We’ve had to change their medication twice,” he said.
And what does Wal-Mart corporate have to say?
Paolucci and Hitchcock e-mailed The Tribune a copy of a letter from a law firm representing Wal-Mart seeking 10 times the retail price of the items the store still claims were shoplifted by Paolucci. The letter states the matter will be dropped if Paolucci submits the $158.40 payment.
Now this is not the first time that Wal-Mart has been perceived as hostile to gay Americans. In 2007, HRC advised against giving our business to Wal-Mart, and just in April of this year, the CEO signed his name to a petition to ban gay couples from adopting.
Wal-Mart doesn’t care about my opinion. And there’s little I can do to impact their decision to treat gay customers with hostility.
But perhaps there are those, even in Niles, MI, who will decide that this situation is just one too many. That they cannot give their custom to bad neighbors. That it may be worth an extra nickle and a further drive to frequent the stores that do not abuse customers solely because they “disapprove of their lifestyle” and who admit it and apologize when they are wrong.
All I can do is spread the word.
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