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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 09
Righting a wrong: Customers rally behind a Gay couple who refused to accept discrimination
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Righting a wrong: Customers rally behind a Gay couple who refused to accept discrimination

by Shaun Knittel SGN Associate Editor

You might do it two or three times a week. As a member of the LGBT community, minding your own business, you stand in line at a fast food sandwich counter and wait for your turn to order. Usually this goes without a hitch. But there are those rare occasions in Seattle - be they at a restaurant or any other business - when things don't go smoothly, and before you know it, you find yourself on the receiving end of anti-Gay prejudice. In the case of Robert Kleingartner and his boyfriend Brian, the location in question is a Quiznos inside the Sea-Tac airport.

In early February, Robert and Brian were in line at the Quiznos to grab a bite while waiting for their flight. The two men don't live in Seattle year-round; they also call South Carolina home. While standing in line, Robert explained, 'Brian decided to go secure us seats at the gate and left me in line to order our food.'

Nothing too out of the ordinary. But then, according to Robert, something unexpected happened. 'Before he left, he gave me a quick kiss,' he told Seattle Gay News. 'Something you see heterosexual couples do daily.'

'As I turned back in line, I heard the Quiznos employee audibly say 'Gross!' and witnessed him shudder with mock disgust,' said Robert.

'It was terribly embarrassing,' he admitted. 'It was obviously directed at me, and several people turned around in line to see if I had witnessed what they had.'

To his surprise, Robert says the employee then made eye contact with him and mouthed the word 'gross' and again pantomimed a shudder.

'I was mortified,' recalls Robert. 'I'm not sure why I did not leave. I guess I was so shocked I didn't know what the appropriate response would be.'

To add insult to an already uncomfortable situation, when it was Robert's turn to order, he says the employee in question walked to the back and asked another employee to complete his order.

'As I stood waiting for my food, there was an awkward silence among everyone also waiting,' said Robert. 'They had all witnessed the employee's actions.'

While he was waiting, Brian returned to the Quiznos having been unable to find seats. Robert told him what had transpired and when their food order was complete, Brian walked up to an employee (not the young man in question) and said that they would no longer eat at Quiznos.

'To my surprise, three other individuals waiting for their food told the employee the same thing and left,' said Robert. 'It was a lovely gesture from individuals who were as upset as I by what they had seen.'

Robert admits that he does not think this sort of prejudice happens often in Seattle and that the Quiznos employee was acting completely on his own - not in any way for the company. However, when he and Brian decided to alert the franchise owner, the situation did not immediately improve.

Robert and Brian began to call for a boycott of the Sea-Tac Quiznos, and the response was better than expected.

'At first, I just wanted to let management know what happened so they could respond internally,' Robert admits. 'But after we received no response, we just knew it was time to reach out to the community.'

The couple began to post anywhere online they could think of to get people's attention. It worked. Many people began to repost and share with their friends the call for a boycott. Eventually, the two men were contacted by Brett Habenicht, the owner of the Quiznos in the airport, who sent the men an apology email.

Although some of the communication between the couple and Habenicht was a bit strained (probably out of fear of a lawsuit or loss of business), Robert maintains, 'I do believe that he was truly horrified' at the actions of his employee.

Habenicht asked Robert to describe the employee so he could 'fire him immediately.'

Robert, however, did not want that to happen. Instead, he said, 'Firing the person doesn't teach them anything. I told him that while we can't change other people's opinions, we could change the way we treat each other.'

Robert has since stated publicly that Quiznos has apologized for the incident and that the apology has been accepted. For now, it would seem, the Sea-Tac airport Quiznos is open for business and will serve all customers - including same-sex couples who kiss while waiting in line.

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