As Indiana and Arkansas contemplate codifying a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people in law, one Texas mother's experience provides a troubling potential preview for gender-nonconforming shoppers.
On Saturday, North Texas resident Rachel Giordano took her 5-year-old daughter Maddie on a trip to Denison clothier Martha's Miniatures for a special treat: The young girl would get a formal outfit to celebrate Easter. When they arrived, Maddie made her usual choice and headed straight to the "boy's" suit section, reports local news station KHON-TV.
"She's a tomboy. She's preferred to dress in boys clothes since she was about 3 years old," Giordano told the local network. "She just gets a suit every year. She looks for to it. ... She's kind of different. She just wants to wear a suit and tie, and Easter's the perfect time for it because there's always cute stuff out."
Giordano says she was happy to help her daughter pick the clothes she liked best, but it soon became clear that a Martha's Miniatures's saleswoman was far less willing. When she realized the suit was for a girl, Giordano recalled that, "The [saleswoman's] face was just a face of disgust. She told me that I was promoting wrong behavior. That parents should not let their children choose the way that they dress if it's cross-gendered."
As her daughter began crying, Giordano left the store without making a purchase. When she got home, she posted to her Facebook about her young daughter's alleged experience of discrimination. More than 100 Giordano's friends replied with words of comfort, and started giving Martha's Miniatures their feedback in 1-star reivews and comments on the shop's social media pages, notes KHON.
That's when the shop took the situation to the next level. Responding to a review on Martha's Minature's Facebook page -- which has since been deleted -- an anonymous salesperson (who may or may not be the same woman who confronted Giordano) wrote, "I was so shocked she asked for a boys suit for the child. I asked her why she was encouraging this." A second post added,"This is child abuse from the mother. ... I am sorry, I did not say anything to the children, just to the mom. She is wrong to encourage this."
Local media reports that Martha's Minatures has not responded to repeated phone calls for comment. While Giordano believes she and her daughter have been subject to discrimination, North Texas TV station KTEN clarified that such treatment is not currently illegal in Denison, Texas, which lacks a nondiscrimination code akin to neighboring Forth Worth or Houston. "It depends on what they're refusing the service for," explained attorney Bobbie Peterson-Cate. "For sexual orientation, no, it is not illegal."
Maddie's alleged experience, however, appears to be a possible case of discrimination based on gender expression, rather than sexual orientation. Whether a child will grow up to identify anywhere along a gender-nonconforming or LGBT spectrum is difficult for a stranger (or even doctors or experts) to tell, but Maddie's treatment does resonate with those often impacted by social homophobia and transphobia.
In a recent Telegraph article on the world's most famous suit-wearing female-assigned child -- Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's 8-year-old child John -- a clinical pscyhologist stressed why Giordano's parenting approach, rather than the saleswoman's, is crucial, explaining that it's important for children to be accepted exactly as they are, without adults overreacting to what can be perceived as cross-gender tendencies.
"To explore what it means to be both genders is ... totally normal," clinical psychologist Linda Blair said. "But the problem is we have suppressed it for so many generations that people are still uncomfortable with it. You can't become what you are until you know what you're not."
Giordano says it's clear that Maddie is happy being who she is right now: a girl who prefers "boy's" clothing. The mother and daughter told KHON that they went on to buy a suit elsewhere -- and Maddie will get to celebrate Easter in style.
Watch KHON-TV's report below for more.