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Proud to be in LGBT but retail attire a complexity

Should women be able to wear men's clothing at a job?
Should women be able to wear men's clothing at a job?
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The events and person are real, but because she still works at this retail location, both have been changed to protect her privacy. The retail store has also not been named due to a current internal case.

Niya has been purchasing her own clothing since the age of 18 when she moved out of her mother's home. Her usual attire consists of button-down shirts and sweaters; loose-fitting khakis and jeans; freshly cleaned name-brand gym shoes and boots; and boxer briefs. A stickler for neat hair, she wears her shoulder-length hair neatly locked with golden-dyed tips.

She is regularly teased for being a workaholic. With four retail jobs and rarely having time for social gatherings, it's difficult for her to do anything but laugh at the work jokes. She miraculously still manages to have a love life with her live-in girlfriend, Alexy.

With three of her four jobs in the same mall, Niya is difficult to miss. Hiring managers and retail representatives see her everywhere. So when a recruiter approached her about working for an outdoor clothing and supply chain, she was flattered. No application needed. She was asked to work there. How could she pass up an opportunity like that?

Her only problem was that the manager wanted her to quit her other jobs to work solely at this one. She didn't want to lose the money, and at the time, she thought that would be her only obstacle. Boy, was she wrong.

When she popped into the store on a weekday to speak with management and find out any last-minute details before her first day at work, her manager asked her to try on some store clothing. She thought it was odd, but since her other jobs required a uniform, she figured maybe this was the norm for retail stores without uniform attire.

Sirens started going off in her head when her manager guided her to the women's clothing side of the store. Niya didn't even wear panties anymore so how in the world was she going to tell her boss she hadn't worn women's outerwear in years? This wasn't the kind of conversation she wanted to have as a new employee.

But when she came out of the fitting room feeling uncomfortable in a few pieces of clothing, she pulled her manager to the side and explained that she did not wear women's clothing. The hiring manager informed her that she would have to be a face for the company, and wearing their attire was a good way to promote their clothing line. Niya listened quietly and wondered what she should do.

When she got home she had an idea. On Sunday, she and Alexy went back into the store and picked out a slew of clothing to wear. She was proud. She was going to make a good impression on her boss by wearing the store's clothing line.

However, when she got to the register and the cashier looked uncomfortable, she knew something was up. The cashier called for the same hiring manager who happened to be in the back of the store.

Niya didn't understand why a manager was needed but guessed that it had something to do with approving an employee discount. Meanwhile Alexy was growing frustrated with her girlfriend's naivete.

With rosy cheeks, bright eyes, a girly laugh and an easily recognizable woman's voice, Niya's clothing couldn't hide that she was a woman. Her heavy chest was also a clear giveaway. Alexy, on the other hand, thrived on wearing fitted women's clothing, makeup and showing off her feminine side. But looking at the two women together was a clear indication of a physical difference. One would be labeled a "lipstick lesbian." The other would be "the man in the relationship."

While the labels and roles didn't make much difference to them, their appearance and attire occasionally made a difference to others. But this was the first time it'd carried over to Niya's job choices.

Alexy could barely contain her outburst when the manager came to the front register. She accused him of not wanting Niya to wear men's clothing. The hiring manager neither confirmed or denied. He looked from Alexy to Niya and asked to speak to Niya privately.

When he told Niya that she should tell her other jobs that she wouldn't be turning in her two week's notice, she realized Alexy was correct. But by that time she was already in an awkward position. Her previous jobs had already started looking for more full-time help since she'd downgraded her hours to part time.

Instead of quitting, she asked for the Human Resources department number. Her boss refused. Niya stormed out of the store and before the day was out, Alexy had gotten the number for Niya.

After speaking with Human Resources and the HR Department confirming that Niya should be able to wear whatever gender of clothing she preferred, Niya went to work. But things have been awkward ever since.

Her hiring manager has been tense with her around customers, snubbed her on several occasions for being the highest-selling employee, switched her hours so she wouldn't be able to earn a certificate for her selling performance, called 20 minutes before she was scheduled to start to cancel her shift and given her the silent treatment on multiple occasions.

This behavior successfully made the only other LGBT employee in the store quit, but Niya still refuses to. Most of her family and friends say she should and that the position is not worth it. Niya likes her job, and just wants her boss to stop the antics and let her make her money in peace. If she quits, then Niya feels he wins.

But calling Human Resources and having two managers come into the store to speak to the hiring manager has fallen on deaf ears. From private discussions with the other managers, Niya's boss feels his behavior is correct. Niya feels she's equally justified in her own behavior.

However, she also worries she's turning into a nuisance with management although they claim to be on her side. She's exhausted all possibilities outside of filing a discrimination lawsuit.

Should she quit? Should she stay? Should she file a lawsuit? Is she overreacting?

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