Bob Smedley / United States
“I am a native of Orlando, Fl. Born 9-8-56, presently 62 years of age. Adjusting to the sound of being a senior. Getting used to taking advantage of some “senior discounts”. As a senior in the LGBT community, I have not experienced much discrimination. At this point in my life I generally don’t put up with much from people and have a confident response to any issue of nontolerance or homophobia.
I experienced several significant discriminatory situations in my early career in the criminal justice system, employed through Orange County government.
After graduating with my undergraduate degree in 1978 I had already been working for Orange County Court Alternatives, now Orange County Community Corrections. I had been working in a Pretrial Diversion for several years and was up for a supervisory promotion in 1983. At this time gays and lesbians were not a protected population in Orange County government.
I had completed my interview for the supervisory position and had written recommendations from several Judges and Assistant State Attorneys. The manager and assistant manager were very close friends and golfing buddies. Their offices were around the corner from mine. As I was approaching my office, I overheard them talking about the pending decision for the supervisory position. I clearly head the manager tell the assistant manager that they would never promote a “fag” in this department. Although I was not formerly out to anyone in the department, there was no doubt they were referencing me. When I was advised the position went to another candidate, I was told that management preferred the position going to someone with a family that reflected stability for the department.
I consulted an attorney in the LGBT community as to my options to file a grievance and was told I had very little chance of challenging their decision. I wanted to proceed with the grievance process even if it just made management as uncomfortable as they made me. There was a full investigation and it was their word against mine and no action was taken. I decided at this point that no situation would stop me from standing up for myself.
I was still in the process of accepting my own gay identity and was slowly approaching my outing process. I had decided I would be making that decision rather than any situation or other person outing me. I was heaving involved with an evangelical Christian church which meant a major social shift by coming out. My self outing was in October 1986 and I slowly removed myself from the church which was increasing in its homophobic ideolog y.
In 1990 the Orlando Gay Chorus was formed and I was a founding member. I was voted as the vice president. In 1993 I became the second president of the chorus and quickly had to address the next discrimination experience. The chorus had received grant funding from the United Arts of Orlando. In 1993 we applied for the grant renewal and was denied continued funding. The president of United Arts made a public announcement that her lord would not allow her to approve funding for a gay organization. As Orlando was maturing to a more progressive community this decision made the news. I was asked to do an interview by the 3 major local television stations. Several co workers advised me against any public interview that might make the news as it might jeopardize my job. At the time I was working at the Orange County Work Release Center and had a new manager that I was still getting to know. I decided to have a meeting with him to explain the situation of the pending news interview. I was quite surprised that I had his full support. Being African American he said he has had his share of discrimination to deal with. I completed the interview and received amazing support from work and the LGBT community for addressing the religious right.
Several weeks after this I was in a staffing meeting at work to address a resident of the Work Release Center having behavioral problems. The resident was a very flamboyant gay man and would even cross dress during down time. Several staff members shared their negative experience and some of the opinions were very heated. The new Center manager became very irritated and blurted out “send that faggots ass back to jail.” I immediately decided to address this and asked Mr. D if I had said, send that “n” back to jail, what would he have done. Mr. D quickly understood the comparison and apologized and said he needed to work on his belief system. The relationship with Mr. D maintained a very respectful stance to the point that he still calls me every year on my birthday. This turned out to be a very positive experience.
Another story took place while grocery shopping. I was checking out at the cashier at Publix. While the cashier was ringing my items, 3 guys walked in and were as flamboyant as the Work Release resident. My cashier looked to the bag boy and without hesitation said how she hates it when fags like that have to be so queeny. That she hated having to check them out. I asked the cashier if she could call her manager over and she asked me why. I told her that her fag comment was totally out of line and I apologized for passing as straight and told her I was gay, not a fag. She was speechless and failed to comply with my request to page the manager. I asked the cashier behind me to call the manager which she did. The manager came to the check out and I explained the situation. He asked for my name and telephone number and said appropriate corrective measures would be taken. Publix is known to be a very conservative company. A week later I received an email from a Publix vice president with a further apology and that it is not the stance of Publix to support discriminatory behavior of their employees.
One family situation was a bit amusing. I was at a family cook out and was sitting across the picnic table with my sister n law. I had always been close to my sister n law. This gathering was not long after coming out in 1986. My sister n law said “Bob, you know we love you even though you’re gay.” I said to her, let me restate this to you, “Pat, you know I love you even though you’re straight.” I asked her how stupid that sounded. This led to a very good conversation.”