Monday, June 24, 2019

Pride in the Window, or Hidden Away In the Back - A Tale Of Two Stores For LGBTQ Pride Month

I recently had two completely different shopping experiences, in the space of ten minutes.

The Kiehl's store, where I went to pick up the grapefruit bodywash that has changed my mind about scented products, had a diversity pride flag shining out from the three-foot tall statue of liberty decal across their front window.

The saleswoman and I chatted about my husband and teenage daughter, and how we all liked their products. She wished me a happy Gay Pride, excitedly telling me that this was the first year Kiehl's was marching in the Los Angeles Pride parade as well as in the New York City Pride parade. As she rang me up, she offered me two sheets of LGBTQ pride stickers, which included the image of Lady Liberty shining her diversity pride flag.

The amazing Kiehl's Diversity LGBTQ Pride Stickers!

I mentioned that the next day was my anniversary - 22 years with my husband - and that I needed to get him a card. Were there any card stores around? She warmly congratulated me on the anniversary, and then suggested I try out the Hallmark store five shops down.

"Hallmark?" I said, dubious. "Are they going to have anything for two guys?" I was thinking of the pretty heteronormative Hallmark brand I knew, the movies, the whole vibe...

She encouraged me to check it out, and I said I would, and I'd let her know if I found anything. Thinking that, when I went back in a month, I'd tell her I had to go somewhere else because Hallmark wasn't going to have anything.

But I was there, and why not try? Walking into the Hallmark store (where I've never shopped before) didn't change any of my preconceived notions. But the saleswoman smiled as I walked in and asked if she could help me find anything.

I said, "Yes, I'm looking for an anniversary card for two men." (Looking back on this, it's interesting that my language obliquely slipped me into the closet. The card I wanted could have been for friends, the way I said it. That damn closet that I spent so many years in and out of, depending on how safe I felt. I guess, in this store, I didn't feel that safe.)

"Oh, we have a box in the back." She replied.

"Huh?" Not my most eloquent reply, but I didn't know what she meant. There were ten aisles of card racks in the store, each stretching back twenty feet, displaying probably thousands of cards. I headed over to the counter where she stood.

"Yes, like our Spanish language cards." She pointed to a cardboard box on the floor behind her. "I'll just go get them."

While I waited, I headed over to the anniversary section, wondering if I could find something sort of gender-neutral (what I usually do in a pinch), but even the animal card couples were the kind where one penguin wore a dress and the other wore a bow tie.

Then she was back, with a cardboard box full of cards. "Here they are," She set them on the counter, and I started to look through it.

It was a goldmine of LGBTQ greeting cards. Cards congratulating two moms on having a baby. Cards for parents whose child had come out to them about being Trans who wanted to say they loved their child still. And yes, cards for two men celebrating their anniversary and their love.

I found a lot of good options in the LGBTQ box of cards at the Hallmark Store

The card I got was awesome - the printed text on the cover reads:

"You're strong and sexy,
sweet and generous,
funny and tender—
everything a man wants
his husband to be."

and it's stamped Hallmark on the back. It's made with recycled paper. I was so impressed!

And yet...

All these cards were hidden in a box in the back.

There was no signage in the store that would let you know the cards were there. You had to ask.

I asked the saleswoman why the cards weren't on display. June is LGBTQ pride month, after all. And she said they had more cards than they had room to display, as if that made perfect sense to her.

As she rang me up, I fought back my anxiety and I suggested that they might want to put out a handful of the LGBTQ cards on their racks, with signage that they had more, and that customers could ask for them. So people would know they were supportive of the queer community. So people would know that they had all these great cards. For people like me and my husband. (There. I'd come out. Take that, you damn closet!)

I asked if she would pass the comment along to whoever made the decisions on display in their store, and she said she would. It was awkward, but I felt good about asking. About being real about who I am. And I was excited about the "Our Anniversary: Man to Man" card I had found.

I left the Hallmark store, and went right back to Kiehl's.

I found the saleswoman who had been so kind, and told her that to my surprise, I had found some great gay cards, but that they'd had to bring them out from the back in a cardboard box.

"Oh," she laughed. "That's what they make us do for the mahogany cards."

I didn't know the term. "Mahogany," She explained. "Cards that show Black people like me."

And it hit me, what that Hallmark store had so wrong. People who spoke Spanish, Black people, Queer people—none of us were represented on the store floor. We weren't part of their vision of their customers. Of their community.

They had our cards in the back, in cardboard boxes.

They would have our cards in stock, they would take our money, but we weren't important enough to represent on the store floor, even with a handful of cards.

The straight, white, cis-gendered folks had all their cards proudly on display. But anyone different was second-class, and had to ask if, maybe, possibly, in the back, there was something for them. For us.

There was no pride in that box of LGBTQ cards being hidden away.

I hope that Hallmark store changes their approach. Hallmark is making cards for Spanish speakers. They're making cards for and featuring Black people. They're making cards for those of us in the LGBTQ community.

Now they need to put those cards out on display, so they proudly tell everyone—including their straight, white, cis-gendered customers—that celebrating diversity is part of who they are, too.

Because right now, I'll proudly continue to shop at Kiehl's. But I'll think twice before shopping at Hallmark again.

Be you, with Pride!

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

1 comment:

Laurie Young said...

Happy Anniversary!!! And Happy Pride!!! Thank you for bringing this to light. I might have walked into a Hallmark looking for a same sex anniversary card, but would not have thought to ask for it, assuming that everything was out. They are doing a disservice to all their customers by keeping the non-white, non-cis, non-hetero cards out of sight. I hope they get the message.