A Johannesburg man claims he was ridiculed by Woolworths employees for being gay while shopping at the chain store’s Lifestyle Crossing branch in Strubens Valley.
Rico Zaaiman, a marketing executive, wrote in a letter to the company that he popped into the shop on Monday evening when the incident took place.
“As I left the store I had a feeling to look back over my shoulder and noticed that one of your employees was mocking me by pretending to walk like a woman and pretending to carry a hand bag,” said Zaaiman.
He wrote that another staff member “also laughed” at the man’s discriminatory actions. “As a very effeminate gay person I must deal with this sort of nonsense daily from people on the street [but] what I will not tolerate is being mocked by an employee of your establishment.”
Zaaiman explained to Mambaonline that he walked back into the store and confronted the employee. “I told him that I cannot believe that he is behaving like this and demanded to speak to his manager. One staff member asked me what happened. I explained the matter and she told him to apologise.”
The staff member did apologise to Zaaiman, but he has not accepted it. “He gave a half assed apology. I got the distinct impression he is just saying sorry because he got caught, not because he meant it.”
The manager reportedly expressed his shock that one of his staff members would act in such a manner and told Zaaiman that he “would deal with it”.
To make the entire situation even worse, however, while complaining to the staff about his treatment, some customers then began to laugh at Zaaiman.
“I felt humiliated. I got in my car and sat crying,” said an emotional Zaaiman. “I am used to being stared at and I am used to people sneering at me. I have accepted that as part of who I am, being so effeminate, but I will not tolerate this from a brand.”
Zaaiman is not interested in apologies from Woolworths and has decided to stop supporting the company. “It has been a rather painful experience, especially when I realised it was a brand that I kept close at heart,” he added.
What he would like Woolworths to commit to do, however, is to ensure that its staff members, and especially the employee in question, undergo LGBTI sensitisation training.
“He should be put in a programme that teaches people about LGBTI communities. And as part of that he should work in his own time in a programme that reaches out to this community,” Zaaiman said.
“I am different, and I celebrate my uniqueness. My clients, bosses, staff and friends love the fact that I do not fit into a particular norm. People who do not know me or people that are like me, do not understand us. What makes it harder is that fact that we have to deal with this particular brand of vileness every single day. You get branded as some ‘thing’ that deserves scorn and are to be treated with disdain.”
At the time of writing, Woolworths had not yet responded to Zaaiman’s complaint.