Since 2007, Macy’s has received a top rating of 100 percent in the Human Rights Campaign’s evaluation of the treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people by corporations. The department store chain recently stood by its policy when the River Center Macy’s in San Antonio fired an employee, Natalie Johnson, after she told a transgender customer that she could not change in the women’s dressing room. Johnson says that her Christian religious beliefs prevent her from recognizing transgender people.
The American Family Association’s One Million Moms has stepped in to champion Johnson and sought to turn the case into a matter of religious freedom — and expressed its disdain towards transgender people — by saying that “Macy’s has fired a Christian woman for refusing to violate her beliefs” and that “the LGBT agenda has become the theater of the absurd.”
However, Macy’s policy about transgender people using changing rooms is straightforward. Macy’s senior vice president of corporate communications and external affairs Jim Sluzewski issued this statement:
“Macy’s is very proud of our philosophy of diversity and inclusion, and we welcome all customers into our stores. This includes customers of all races, ethnicities, ages, genders, faith traditions, countries of origins and lifestyle preferences. We strive to ensure that each customer is able to shop in a discrimination-free environment.”
Johnson says that, on November 30, she saw a teenager shopping:
“I made sure to keep an eye on him because he was shopping for women’s clothing,” remembered Johnson.
She said she was convinced the shopper was a man. So when she saw him in the women’s dressing room, she told him he couldn’t change there.
“I had to just straight forward tell him, ‘You’re a man,’ and of course that made him really got him steamed,” said Johnson.
The teenager was with a group of five others who reportedly reminded Johnson of Macy’s policy allowing transgender people to change in the dressing room of the gender that they identify with. But Johnson said that she “refused[d] to comply with this policy.” The next day, her manager spoke to her and reminded her of Macy’s policy, whereupon Johnson said that her religious convictions were against the policy. Johnson was fired.
A student at San Antonio College and a member of Tabernacle of Prayer, a nondenominational church, Johnson went to Liberty Counsel, which is described as a “conservative Christian law firm that advocates for religious freedoms.” Johnson says that “her Christian faith and concerns for safety and privacy in a changing room were ignored.” She has since filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and says that she not only wants her job back, but that she wants Macy’s to change or eliminate its policy about transgender people.
Johnson can be said to have endangered the “safety and privacy” of the teenager in not respecting her choice of using the women’s changing room. Based on comments made to ABC News — “There are no transgenders in the world. A guy can dress up as a woman all he wants. That’s still not going to make you a woman” – Johnson has very definite notions about transgender people and does not seem, at this point, herself open to reforming these. Her religious beliefs are of course her personal choice, as are her objections to Macy’s LGBT policy. Macy’s has set its policies for reasons of its own: Perhaps working in a different environment, with different policies than Macy’s “philosophy of diversity and inclusion,” might better accommodate Johnson and her religious beliefs.
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Photo by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos