Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!
Please be advised this Post contains lots of Profanity and Explicit Language and is Extremely Long.
It all started with a napkin. See, my new husband had somehow lost his napkin. Being the chivalrous, gentleman I am, I immediately gave him mine, a little used, but whatever. I looked around for a busser, server, anyone would could help me with this extremely mundane request, but to no avail. Having glanced various times at the table next to ours, it appeared that these two women in their late 40s/early 50s were seated alone and very much enjoying each other’s company. So, I leaned over and grabbed the napkin carefully and cautiously out of the neatly packed sushi arrangement.
With the napkin still in hand, one of the ladies said something to the effect of, “Oh, so you just steal other people’s napkins from their tables? That is so rude.”
Of course, I was mortified and embarrassed, so I apologized and advised that I didn’t know they were waiting for additional people. The ladies continued with their rants, “What does that fuckin’ matter? You just don’t steal someone else’s napkins…”
Literally and naturally, I went to put the napkin back to where it had been previously, when mortified and offended, they both said, “No way do we want that fuckin’ napkin after you dirty hands were on it!”
The darker haired one and obvious aggressor of the couple stared me straight in the eye with complete disgust and repulsiveness in her tone, “I mean, what type of person are you that steals other people’s napkins?”
At this point, I was really hoping that she was joking, but she glared and remained transfixed with the fact that I truly kept silent. I was speechless and had no idea of how best to respond to that, so as not to escalate the situation any further. I shrugged and turned back to my husband with an awkward smile.
Within the next two minutes, I had found a waiter and advised them that we needed some napkins ourselves and would he be so kind as to replenish the napkin that I had stolen from the table next to ours. I thought it was over. But it wasn’t.
My heart was still pounding when, my husband, who I had tried to convince that I was okay, (even though the ladies were still ranting and raving about how nasty of a person I was to steal a napkin), defending my honor of sorts, politely and respectfully rose from the table and leaned over theirs. He advised them that it was just a napkin and that I had already apologized and they may have been blowing this out of proportion a bit. Let’s be honest, there was probably a bit of a facetious tone, but I don’t know because he said it in a lower voice so as to avoid the entire sushi place overhearing our conversation or their obvious disgust for the situation at hand.
Bad idea. Very bad idea. The lady with darker hair immediately, said “Get the fuck out of my face! How dare you, you fuckin’ faggot, you queen! Don’t you dare get all up in my face! Who the fuck do you think you are? You fuckin’ queen.” I may be paraphrasing, but you get the gist.
My husband looked like he was about to kick some ass, mighty sexy I might add, but I continued to calm him down and advised vehemently that he ignore them.
Well, it didn’t stop there either. They then proceeded to yell across the restaurant that they were not going to sit next to these fuckin’ faggots and that we were about to have an altercation if they stayed where they were sitting. It was loud and everyone was staring.
They both got up from the table, angrily and loud enough to make a scene and said something to the effect of “we are not goin’ sit next to those fuckin’ queens, those fuckin’ faggots. They are disgusting.” (Again, you get the gist!)
I can only imagine their language and their behavior when telling the host/reception that they had to move across the restaurant to get away from those terrible gays.
For just a moment, I took in a huge sigh of relief that perhaps they would leave.
Alas, I had completely lost my appetite and that Black Cod skewer looked soooo delicious.
Not two minutes later, the lady with darker hair walked past our table muttering, “I hope you faggots choke on your food.” Much to my surprise, she waltzed around the restaurant only to come back two minutes later saying much the same thing, a little louder now so that everyone could hear. Looking back, I now understand there was another reason why she was doing this.“
Every Man Must Decide Whether He Will Walk In The Light of Creative Altruism Or In The Darkness of Destructive SelfishnessDr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Continued Harassment.
The hosts, without hesitation, sat them down at a table in a complete unobstructed view from our table and particularly directly into my eye-sight. I could see them continually pointing and shaking their heads.
All of a sudden, I then feel a dark presence to my immediate right. This middle-aged guy begins, “You fuckin’ faggots better leave our wives alone. You fuckin’ pooftahs. I’m so glad we don’t have people like you fuckin’ faggots in our lives.” Now, I had just learned a few weeks prior in London what exactly a “pooftah” was and was actually impressed by his usage of the very derogatory British slang, but then thought better of the timing.
Even after all of this, I, like a dork, tried to apologize to him by saying I thought the women were sitting alone and that I had no idea…, but he just muttered some other terrible slur and walked away.
We were stunned. Now, it became clear to us why the lady with darker hair had walked past our table twice…to ensure that her husband knew to which table he would direct his anger, harassment, and threats.
Meanwhile at our Table.
To be honest, we hadn’t said much. Once the husband left our table, we finally started to discuss what had just occurred. We spoke about how terrible they must feel inside and how much pain they must be holding onto in their lives. As intuitives and spiritual mediums, our emotional intelligence and compassion is infinite and even extends to poor and sad individuals such as these. There was so much to say. This was our first time experiencing gay bashing in years and years and unfortunately his first time in the United States.
Neither of us are newbies to being chastised and picked on for being different. We discussed our years and years of gay bashing throughout our lives, mostly during our school years and some after. We recollected about our strength and resilience in those moments. As newlyweds, we hadn’t yet discussed our terrible harassing days, months, and years by various students, even teachers in some cases.
We bonded in an incredible way, with our hearts trembling in fear, our bodies paralyzed in disbelief, and our hands red from wanting to physically defend, if need be. Even our toes were angry with years of harassment, our hands shaking with embarrassment and disgust, and our eyes watery from choking back the intense amount of emotions.
The Hostile Environment.
Embarrassed. Harassed. To say that we were scared would be an understatement. It’s not that I didn’t think I could handle myself if anything physically escalated. Let’s be very clear about this, however, as it was truly not an option, but, self-defense might just have been necessary if my life were threatened or the life of my new husband. We were in shock, so surprised that something like this could happen in Southern California, in the 21st century, in one of America’s safest cities, Carlsbad, where my new husband and I were actually considering, earlier that day, as a potential option of a town for starting a family. He reached out to take my hand and I pulled back for the first time ever. I then realized how silly that was…and reached back out for his.“
There Is No Deficit In Human Resources;
The Deficit Is In Human Will.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As our hands were now safely in each other’s comfortable grip, finally… our server, Chris, came over to us. You have probably been asking yourself, where is the staff? Yes. So did we.
Not one of the staff members had approached our table since the “altercation” had occurred. Not one.
Chris asked if everything was okay. I didn’t even know where to begin, so I asked to speak with the General Manager immediately. To our astonishment, he advised that the GM doesn’t work on the weekends (hmmm, what?) and that he was doubling as the Floor Manager that evening. After three seconds of complete dumbfoundedness, we relayed a good part of the story to Chris. His first reaction was to apologize for the behavior of the other table. The second reaction was to stand there and do nothing.
After realizing he was clearly not trained for anything like this (during the day, I am an HR Professional/Consultant), I told him that we had completely lost our appetite and wanted to leave the restaurant as soon as possible, so if he could pack up our things as quickly as possible that would be great. Let me be clear about something here. I needed some fresh air. I needed to get out of that restaurant. My heart was still pounding, the tears were still welling up in my eyes, and I needed to extricate myself from that establishment as quickly as possible, so I could feel safe again. It was about my safety and my husband’s safety.
Nothing happened. Five minutes later. I once again asked Chris to pack up our items and that we wanted to leave as soon as possible. Ten minutes later, same thing. Chris, please I need to get out of here.
We Must In Strength and Humility meet Hate With Love.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While it took Chris and the staff about fifteen, yes, 15 minutes, to pack up our items and put down the check (in my amazement), we had been deeply reflecting on three questions, really. One, how could we have handled the situation differently? Of course, we chuckled when I stated I will never ever again steal a napkin from any table as long as I live. The second question, what is going on in their lives that would cause them to erupt like that and harass/gay bash us over a silly napkin? We don’t need to go in the details on these two questions, but please know we are compassionate human beings that truly care about the human race. We heavily pondered if this type of behavior is now kosher in a Trump-era society (given his consistent insults and derogatory comments to anyone and everyone). Not a dis, just a fact.
The last question and the most important question of the three: what would have happened if our children had witnessed this “altercation?” What would he have told them? What would we have said about the other individuals involved? What lessons are they teaching their children? What lessons do we want to teach our children?
Name calling is just silly. Physical aggression is never the answer. How can we ALWAYS take the higher road? How can we ALWAYS be the bigger and better person? These questions still haunt me several days later.
While I don’t know for sure what the other 4-top of individuals were discussing, I can guarantee you it wasn’t the aforementioned three questions. What is the world coming to?
The Discount. (lol)
Finally, after waiting what felt like forever, he dropped the check, apologizing once again for their behavior, citing that he’s from San Francisco and he cannot believe people like that still exist in the world. He lastly apologized for the discount and said it was the best he could do. I’ll be honest, I had thought about what the restaurant was going to do for us.
At this point, I had calmed down enough that my heart wasn’t pounding anymore. However, when I saw the 15% discount, I was disgusted. I laughed in horror and disbelief. For a moment, I considered just walking out and leaving the bill on the table…and were I a different human, I probably would have. I paid the bill as I knew at that point I would definitely be refunded once I spoke to the General Manager.
And then, I hit a low point. I then told my beautiful, handsome and incredible new husband that I didn’t want to hold his hand as we walked out of the restaurant. (How terrible now that I think about it.) Because in that moment, they won. Hatred had won over love. Never again.
As we left the establishment, I inquired at the host/reception as to the name of the General Manager and advised them I would be contacting him the very next day (Sunday). They looked at me like I was crazy.
As soon as the door closed to the restaurant, perhaps one second prior, I very deliberately grabbed my husband’s hand with a gentle and loving smile.
The Aftermath of Fear.
Even as we left the establishment, still shaking, I kept feeling that one of the husbands (of the ladies) was going to follow us out to the car or hurt us in some way. At one point earlier, I had seen one of the husbands step outside for a few minutes and then return. My first thought was he had slashed our tires after having cleverly found my car in the parking lot. My second thought was…that’s giving him a lot of credit and he probably went to smoke. Nonetheless, you can bet your bottom dollar I was watching that table like a hawk, just in case we had to move/escape quickly.
Needless to say, that night was long and sleepless. We both tried to speak about other topics, but always seemingly found our way back to the hate crime/harassment that had just taken place.
The next morning, over breakfast, we still felt the aftermath. I felt cautious to hold his hand and conscious of all the people in Carlsbad that looked and/or “stared” at us. It was a horrible and terrible feeling which has tapered over the past few days, but still haunts me now.“
Our Lives Begin to End The Day We Become Silent About Things That MatterDr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Another good point to bring up here…were there other people around? Oh yes! There were at least 50-75 people within about 25-30 feet of our table and not one of them said anything to us.
If I had witnessed this situation, you bet I would have either intervened, insisted that the restaurant kick out that table of harassers, or at the very least, when all the commotion had died down, have approached the two guys (clearly defeated and embarrassed) asking if they were okay. Moreover, I would have commiserated, listened, and told them those “guys” are terrible and horrible people.
Not one person intervened. Not one person got up from their seat to ensure that perhaps we were okay. Not one of them came over to help.
Not one person.
Remember, the GM doesn’t work on weekends, so I called and left him a message with the hostess on Sunday stating that we had been sexually and verbally harassed at their establishment and that he needed to call me right away. A bit dramatic, but apparently not effective. By 3pm on Monday, I still had not heard from the GM and simply could not wait any longer. It was time. I contacted the GM at his Monday-Friday business office and just said, “Hello my name is Seth Santoro”…and left it at that. The GM said, who?
I stated… “Didn’t you get my message?” He laughed and said, “I received about 75 messages over the weekend.” I then replied, “I bet you didn’t receive more than one hate crime this weekend.” He immediately said…ohhhh. I just learned about this one hour ago and I have already told the owners. (Brief pause)… “You had an altercation with another customer…” I was so taken aback by this response that I almost started crying. Immediately, I corrected him saying something like, we were verbally and sexually harassed in your establishment for being gay. He paused. I paused.
After a few moments, I politely asked him if he had some time (which turned into 45 minutes) for me and I then launched into the very same story that I have told you here. He asked some additional questions, but really really listened to me, which was… important. Firstly, he apologized profusely and admitted that his staff had not handled the situation correctly. Secondly, he said that nothing like this had ever happened at any of their restaurants previously. (I’m still trying to find the relevance there, but…) Thirdly, he replied that he would have generally comp’ed the entire meal and then offered us a complimentary meal whenever we wanted in the future. Lastly, he apologized again on behalf of the owners as well.
Over the weekend, as part of my cathartic process, I not only wrote down the bullet points of the story, but also jotted down 16 HR/Training questions for the General Manager to answer, ranging from harassment training to weekend GM schedules to conflict resolution procedures. In other words, I was well prepared for this conversation and I wasn’t going to let this ever happen again at any of their restaurants. Ever.
I politely told him that I was not calling to get a refund for my meal (although that should have gone without saying), I was calling to discuss their conflict resolution procedures and their training on issue escalation protocols. I then adamantly added that we would probably never again dine in any of his restaurants given the situation at hand. I waited a beat, just giving him time to exhale, in confusion, and then I started my HR inquiry. I advised him that unfortunately or fortunately for him, I was an HR professional and had a great deal of serious concerns that I wanted to address for his establishment and all of their restaurants…
We Are Now Faced With The Fact That Tomorrow Is Today…
We Are Confronted With The Fierce Urgency Of Now.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Despite what you may be thinking, I kept the conversation light yet stern. He knew, on some level, I could frankly sue the pants off of him. We laughed awkwardly a few times when he referred to the “silly” people sitting at that table. He apologized a few more times for Chris’ lack of emotional intelligence, the staff for doing nothing, the dismal discount, and more. Understanding my expertise, he inquired as to what I meant by conflict resolution and issue escalation procedures. So, I rattled off a few major points from the top of my head from my fifteen years of HR experience across three continents. There was no way within one conversation we were going to change their HR procedures. Here’s what I told him:
- See Something
- Say Something (to Manager)
- De-escalate the situation (as quickly as possible)
- “Emotional Intelligence” the Situation (Nurture or Escort them out)
- Quick, Swift, and Efficient Action
- Raise to GM/Owner (ASAP)
- HR needs to document/investigate/mitigate risk
And…that’s just the beginning. The above steps don’t even include the steps necessary for the Human Resources department to handle their intense investigation, their resolution in terms of assessing liability/risk, and mitigating all potential litigation.
Throughout the conversation and toward the end, I told him various times we had an incredible opportunity at our fingertips. The issue was much bigger than either of us. This was policy change. This was beneficial to more than just their restaurants but all restaurants nationwide or even globally. I told him I was going to write an article and it was up to him and the owners to finish the story with good press or not-so-good press. He obviously and very seriously didn’t hesitate to say, let’s partner then and do something about it.
Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness; Only Light Can Do That.
Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate; Only Love Can Do That.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Future Solutions.
I am happy to report that I have already forwarded him my credentials (as per his request) and my initial thoughts on a conflict resolution procedure / issue escalation protocol training for all levels of staff for all of his restaurants. It’s now one week later and I have yet to hear from him, but rest assured, I won’t give up!
Partnering together, we can roll out some protocol training to ensure that this never happens again…and god forbid, if something like this were to happen again, they will all be trained on how to handle the situation properly, ensuring their patrons feel safe, supported, and protected. After all, isn’t that what we all expect when we go out to one of the best sushi restaurants in our towns?
What’s the Point?
Point #1: What would you have done…if you were us? Would you have done something differently? How would you have felt? Think about it!
Point #2: What would you tell your children if they had witnessed this? What would you have told them about the harassers involved? This one haunts me still.
Point #3: If you were a witness to the above incident, what would you have done? Would you have come up to us? Would you have intervened?
Point #4: If you don’t say anything, you are condoning this behavior. If you don’t do anything, you have missed an opportunity to help support, protect, and nurture our diverse culture of human beings.
Point #5: It is more important now than ever before, we must step up and protect everyone… all minorities, LGBTQ, black, Asian, African, Native American. The list can go on and on. This terrible harassment is happening all around us, whether in the United States, Mexico, or South Africa. Everywhere.
So Even Though We Face The Difficulties of Today and Tomorrow, I Still Have A Dream!Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
My Challenge For You.
I really want you to learn from our experience here.
Pay it Forward. Don’t get bitter…get better. Reframe your anger into changing the world. Use your emotions to create bigger and more incredible solutions. Speak out. Speak up. Make the unjust, just. Now, repeat. And repeat again.
I want to give you pause. I want to give you cause to do better in the world.
I challenge you to always be the better person.
I challenge you to always take the higher road.
I challenge you to always lead from the heart with compassion and endeavor to contemplate all sides prior to taking severe or potentially harmful actions.
I challenge you to take the terrible and horrific situations of your present, past, and future and repurpose them by creating and ideating new opportunities and intentions for the world.
And, whatever you do, no matter where you are in the world, don’t steal another person’s napkin. Ever.“
In The End, We Will Remember Not The Words of Our Enemies,
But the Silence Of Our Friends.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I haven’t wanted to share this story with my close friends, family, or colleagues yet. Can you guess why? It’s not that I’m embarrassed or it’s not that I don’t want to discuss what had occurred. Nope. The reason is, my friends and family will NOT be silent. They will be outraged as each one of you should be at this point. Additionally, my close friends, family members and colleagues will be so upset, so distraught, and adamantly worried about us that I’m waiting for the “right” time to do so. It will bother them so much and so much more because it happened to us. Does this situation make your blood boil?
For this reason, I’m putting our experience out there for everyone to hear, see, and feel simultaneously, so we can do something together. All of us. So, we can do something better next time. I wish I could say there won’t be a next time…alas, human rights issues effect all members of our human race each and every day.
See something. Say something.
P.S. Please feel free to comment below.