Not An Industry-Standard Greeting

, , , , | Working | June 14, 2019

(I am a woman in my mid-20s. In February, I go with my company to my first conference focusing on our industry. The first day is wonderful. I am meeting peers from other states and countries and learning a lot about the goings-on of our business. The second day, I am walking around with a coworker who is also a woman, in her 60s. She also happens to be part of the LGBT community.)

Me: “I love how they have all the vendors set up in the ballroom so we can check the booths out on breaks!”

Coworker: “Yep! It’s a great way to see what everyone else is working on this year.”

(We approach a vendor booth and start looking at their brochures when one of their reps, a man who I assume is in his late 40s or early 50s, comes over to talk to us.)

Company Rep: “Good morning! Let us know if we can answer any questions for you!”

Coworker: “Thank you! We’re just looking around before the talks start.”

Company Rep: “Which company are you with?”

Me: “We’re with [Company], from [Southern State].”

Company Rep: “Of course! I know exactly where you’re located.”

(My coworker begins to walk down the line of booths, and I move to join her when the guy stops me.)

Company Rep: *looks at me expectantly* “So, are you originally from [Southern State]?”

Me: *thinking maybe he’s visited there* “Yes, born and raised. Haha…” *looks to see my coworker has already moved a couple of booths down* “I should go join my…”

Company Rep: “[Southern State]’s had a lot of trouble with [slang, derogatory, term for LGBT people], huh?”

(I stare at him for a second. It’s no secret that many southern states in the US have had rocky legislation and communication with the LGBT community, but I am of the opinion that things are starting to move in a more positive direction. I try to deflect the subject because this is a business setting and this man’s job is to make our company want to hire his. Plus, he has no inkling of my opinion on this subject, so why would he bring something like that up?)

Me: “Well, I haven’t been a fan of many of the state’s decisions in recent years, and I have friends in that community, so…”

Company Rep: *interrupts me and cranks the topic up 100 notches* “Well, you know, there was a kid in [Other State] who was assaulted in a bathroom by a man dressed as a woman.” *smug look*

Me: *barely keeping my voice calm* “I had not heard that. Was it an actual transgender person, or was it a predator pretending to be one?”

Company Rep: *looks panicked for a second that I actually asked a real question about his comment* “Well, uh, he had a wig and stuff on.”

Me: “I see. Well, it appears I’ve lost my coworker. Excuse me.”

(I walked quickly away, found my coworker, and told her what happened. I was so angry I had to excuse myself for a few minutes to calm down. We both sat down with our manager that evening and told him what happened. He is also a staunch believer in professional behavior between businesses, and made it a point to contact the rep’s superior to let him know how his employee was talking to potential clients. Turns out, this guy had gotten in trouble for bringing up touchy political topics with strangers before — apparently, he liked to get a rise and arguments out of people — and was already on the superior’s radar for disciplinary action. He thanked my manager for letting him know this was still going on. I was so glad that my manager stood up for me, and for our coworker, instead of dismissing my experience as something this guy “just does,” or something that “wasn’t a big deal.” It doesn’t matter what side of a topic like that you fall on, or if the other person agrees with you or not; don’t ambush a stranger in a professional environment to get a rise out of them, especially a stranger who could potentially make the decision to spend thousands of dollars with your company.)

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