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Told to ‘stop acting so gay,’ McDonald’s employee stages store-front protest

Told to ‘stop acting so gay,’ McDonald’s employee stages store-front protest

Armed with placards and rainbow paint, about forty people turned out last night (10 May) to highlight Sean Bailey’s treatment within McDonald’s management at a central Auckland store.

Earlier this week the 19-year-old told media he had been asked to ‘stop acting so gay’ by management. He was also told: ‘If you turn anyone in the store gay you will be fired.’

McDonald’s workers from different stores joined the protest in support of Bailey, a protest that comes nearly a month after New Zealand legalised same-sex marriage.

The manager involved was submitted to a disciplinary meeting for his homophobic comments, apologized to Bailey and was moved to another store, a store that is five minutes down the road from Bailey’s current workplace.

‘He parks in our car park and then walks to his store because it doesn’t have a car park,’ Bailey told Gay Star News.

‘It’s pretty awkward.’

Bailey accepted the manager’s apology but said the punishment should be more severe. ‘If it had been a normal crew member they would have been fired.’

Bailey underwent financial difficulty after he took leave without pay for a few days because he was too embarrassed to come into work after the incident. ‘I want him to have suspension without pay, so he knows how it feels,’ Bailey said.

He also said the passing of New Zealand’s marriage equality bill encouraged him to speak out about what happened.

‘I thought when it passed things would be better. Not just in the workplace but simple things like going to the mall, or grabbing a coffee- that people would have better attitudes towards the gay community.

Bailey added: ‘The bill gave me the courage to step out and ask "why are McDonald’s employees being discriminated?"’

The protest was backed by Unite Union in New Zealand, which is also campaigning for a higher living wage for McDonald’s employees, demanding $15 (€11.55) an hour. The current New Zealand minimum wage is $13.75 (€10.60).

The McDonald’s protest caught the attention of international news media as well as the local community.

Emilia Johnstone and Jarred Durling were on their way back from dinner and stopped to watch the protest unfold. They said the large police presence caught their eye.

‘What happened to Sean was really unfair,’ said  Johnstone. ‘It’s stopping him being who he is.’

Durling agreed saying: ‘What if there are gay workers at his new store, how will they feel working with this manager?’

‘I don’t think they will be selling many burgers tonight,’ commented a woman walking past the McDonald’s in one of New Zealand’s busiest streets. She was referring to the line of police guarding the entrance and staring down a bunch of protesters.

McDonald’s spokesperson, Kim Bartlett, says the events were not reflective of McDonald’s in general.

‘McDonald’s New Zealand does not treat people differently because of their sexual orientation,’ she said.

‘We take complaints of this nature very seriously.’

However, due to privacy restrictions she was unable to comment on the outcome of the manager’s punishment.