Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others
Bullying has become the new social curse, and no one is exempt from its venom. Hardly a week goes by without it rearing its ugly head in the news, or on a current affairs program. Bullying is infecting school yards, work places, committees, sports fields, political arenas . It is anywhere that people, who think it is right to degrade and demean those who can’t or won’t fight back. It is insidious and hateful, performed in dark mould-ridden spaces where it can’t be witnessed by others, it is in a whisper, a slap, a push, a word. The spiteful miscreants delude themselves that they are the strong preying on the weak, when in truth the strength lies with those who bear the brunt of it – at least until pushed too far. This hateful, soul-destroying disease must be wiped out.
As a male who has always been, at least to my way of thinking, obviously gay, I’m surprised I have never encountered much bullying in my lifetime. I was always a popular student in most of the s schools I attended, on deed was often voted in a a class captain or vice-captain. The one time in boarding school when a rather largish – in girth – school bully attempted to take something off me by grabbing and holding onto it, one of the strapping country lads, who fortunately hung out with my circle, took him on and put him in his place. He never harassed me again. The other occasion is outlined below, and was a situation I would not allow to happen again. There is a misconception that bullying only goes on in school yards. Think again! It gies on all around us every day. And adults are not exempt from it. One only has to look at what has been going on in the Australian political landscape in recent times to know that. it is time for it to stop, but that will only happen if good men – and women – step in and say ENOUGH!
This is a brief tale of subtle bullying, revenge of a sorts, and deferred regrets.
As I have often mentioned to friends, as far as being bullied as a gay man goes – and God knows it is obvious enough that I am gay – I have had little more than the occasional ‘poofter’ thrown at me from a passing car’s window over the years. However, when I did encounter the evil beast in its true disguise, it left an indelible mark.
In 1993 I was managing a ‘Liquorland’ store in Darlinghurst. I had started there in 1990 as a senior shop assistant, after managing “Numbers” bookshop for 7 years – just up[stairs from the ‘Liquorland’ store – and badly needing both a change of scenery and a job that was not as monotonous as running a sex shop. It was known when I started at ‘Liquorland’ that I was gay, and HIV+. I made my HIV status known because I worked on a daily basis with glass. Serious accidents are part and parcel of working in that retail environment, and I wanted to ensure workmates were cautious when dealing with severe cuts etc.
The Manager at that time was gay-friendly, as was the Area Manager. In fact, they had a lesbian working as the Assistant Manager, so there were no problems at all…at least at that time. Six months after starting, Diane left and I progressed to Assistant Manager. Then when the Manager was transferred to another store I became Manager. Now, it always seemed an obvious thing to me that the best person to have managing a business in the gay ghetto of Darlinghurst was someone gay, someone who knew the local clientele and could deal with them on a personal basis. Well, obvious to everyone except the new Area Manager who came on board just after my promotion to Manager. I should point out that being a Manager in the Coles/Myer Group at that time held very little in the way of privileges – you were only paid $40 a week more than your Aaistant Manager. Being under contract you lost most of your time off, and were expected to work long, hard hours. Because bonuses were based on store profits you were ridden hard by your Area Manager to get results.
My health was going through one of its tough periods at this time. I was on high levels of what antivirals were available at that time. Not having recovered from a very serious bout of viral pneumonia earlier that year I found myself working long on top of a dreadful diet, and abusing both cigarettes and alcohol. One might say I had the perfect recipe for a health disaster. Add to that a new Area Manager who was not only homophobic but also HIV phobic, and you have real problems. At that time I thought I had about two years of work left in me before departing this mortal coil from something HIV-related – you have to remember that combination therapy was not a option at this time, and wasn’t until 1996. I was seriously starting weighing up my options – did I take a demotion at work back to Assistant Manager – lets face it, the stress would be a lot less – or did I leave and take the Disability Support Pension option. It was a decision that was soon made for me!
I was due to take a fortnights leave in early November of that year, and had given a months notice of taking it. I had also decided to take a demotion, and the Area Manager had coffee with me at this time, ostensibly to discuss my options. I told him that for health reasons, I wished to go back to the position if Assistant Manager, and could it ge arranged at either Darlinghurst or one of the other Eastern Suburbs stores. His suggestion was that if I was going to start having serious health problems, I should consider leaving the organisation altogether, especially considering that I had an illness with a almost pre-determined end result! Not an suspicious attitude! I suggested that my health issues would be resolved by less stress, thus my request for a voluntary demotion. He appeared displeased, but said he would organise things, again reiterating that it was probably time I left the company. I went back to the store feeling that things were not going to get any easier for me, and as it turned out, I was right.
Let the games begin!!
This particular Area Manager had bullied me in subtle ways ever since he started with the the company. It is a difficult situation, as it is always done out of earshot of other staff, and knowing that their is no way for me to back up complaints to head office, he was free to get away with anything. This is typically how bullies operate in the workplace.
The below scenario was prefaced by an event that was to bring home to me just how demeaning and demoralising the tactics of a bully can be. The sister of a Head Office executive was organising a work function at a restaurant in a back street nearby. The wine order,, address and delivery instructions had been entered up in the shop diary for my attention on the day of the function. The morning of the function started with a nightmare in the shop. Arriving to open, I found that the Assistant Manager, who had locked up the night before, had forgotten to hand the keys over to the staff on with him. This meant I had to ring him, then wait outside the shop until he turned up with the keys. On finally opening the store there were deliveries waiting to be unloaded, the float to be put into the register, the previous days takings to be rung through to Head Office, and customers served. It wasn’t until I received a phone call from the restaurant to say the wine hadn’t been delivered that I realised I hadn’t checked the diary, and the wine delivery had been forgotten! As compensation, we invited the entire party to the store to select the same quantity of wine, but with no restriction on price. They appeared happy with that. I apologised to the woman, rang her brother in Head Office, explained what had happened and apologised to him. That should have been the end of it, but no! The Area Manager had to get involved. He must have rung me a dizen times over the next couple of days to berate and belittle me about the mistake, then made me ring the woman again and apologise a second time, then the following day I had to buy her a bunch of flowers, which gad to ge personally delivered to her at her workplace, then I had to ring her a third time to apologise. I don’t know who was more embarrassed by the whole grovelling scenario – myself, or the poor woman. I have no doubt the Area Manager loved every minute of it. I was reminded of the event on every possible future occasion.
So, to my final month with Liquorland.
The first thing the Area Manager did was bring in to the store another staff member to be trained up to my position. I could never quite work this one out, as I already had a very good Assistant Manager who was more than able to take over from me – and in fact deserved the promotion. Not only was a new guy brought in, he was placed on the same pay level as me, despite not actually being a Manager. This, of course, effectively undermined my authority. Because he was on an equal footing with me, staff were answerable to both of us, but as I was about to be moved to another store I was told that he was to have the managerial authority. So, for the next three weeks while training him to take over as manager, he controlled the store and I was left twiddling my thumbs behind the cash register. This was very demoralising, though as I was to find out shortly, there was a method in the Area Managers vindictiveness..
My holidays eventually rolled around, and off I went, thinking that in two weeks I would be starting in a new store as an Assistant Manager. There was an Assistant Manager position available in the Surry Hills Mall store, and I was informed I would be filling tat position. A week before returning to work I still had not had the position confirmed, so rang the Surry Hills store to find out if they had any confirmation of my appointment, and to find out what roster I would be on. The store Manager knew nothing about my being transferred there. He told me he would look into it, and get back to me. By the Thursday of that week I still had heard nothing, and started leaving messages with the Area Manager to contact me so that I knew what I was doing on the Monday when I was due to return to work. Nothing! The Surry Hills Manager still had not heard from him, and had no idea what was going on. I decided to pay a visit to the Darlinghurst store and see if I could pin the Area Manager down. The new guy who was now Manager asked me to come out the back with him for a chat. He told me he felt really badly about the shabby way I had been treated. He had been told by the Area Manager when he started to make my life as uncomfortable as possible in the hopes that I would resign. This hadn’t happened, though he (the area manager) was sure that in the course of my holidays I would resign. The store Manager, in an about face, told me to hang on, as if I resigned, the Area Manager would get a great amount of satisfaction. Also, if I resigned before I returned to work, he could pay me out in lieu of notice,and get me out of his hair. The plan was for me not to return to work from my holidays.
I decided to dig in my heels – after all, he didn’t know that I now knew what he was up to. I kept ringing the Surry Hills store manager, and late on the Friday he got back to me to say that I was to start work there at 8.30am on the following Monday as Assistant Manager. I now had my position confirmed, and a plan in place. At no time did the Area Manager contact me to confirm any of this. At 8.30am on the Monday morning I turned up for work as confirmed – and gave two weeks notice. I believe the Area Manager was furious, but I can’t confirm that, as he totally ignored me for the next two weeks, despite regular visits to the store, and didn’t even bother to wish me luck on the day I left. At least I felt that I had a hand in my own demise – in the end it hadn’t been determined by him. I was talking to another gay Manager from another store in the area just after this, and found out he was encountering the exact same harrassment from the same Area Manager
After several weeks of tossing backwards and forwards whether I should report his conduct to the company or not, I decided to let it drop. My health wasn’t the best at the time, and I had no witnesses to the discrimination. The Darlinghurst store Manager – despite telling me what was going on – wasn’t going to back me up, as it would have put
his job on the line. He had, in fact, asked me not to divulge the information he had given me, and despite the fact that he had treated me like shit, I sort of felt sorry for him. After all, he was stuck with the Area Manager, and I no longer was.
In retrospect now, I regret that decision. It still plays on my mind from time to time, especially when I hear of others encountering bullying, harassment and discrimination in their workplace. I regret not mentioning it to my other staff members at Darlinghurst – none of whom had any issue with a Manager who was gay and HIV+ – and I especially regret not taking it further with the company and possibly onto the Anti-Discrimination Board. As I have mentioned to others, despite having no witnesses, and being in a his-word-against-mine situation (with the odds being stacked on his side, as he was a ‘company man’), at least there would have been a report about it, and I would have, at least, sewn the seeds of doubt. Even back in those days Coles/Myer had anti-discrimination policies, and he may – or may not- have been dragged over the coals. It is a regret that I now have to live with.
If you are suffering any kind of harrassment or discrimination in your workplace,report it! Your workplace should be somewhere you look forward to going to every day, not somewhere that you sneak to with trepidation, wondering what is in store for you to make your life difficult. Even if you have no witnesses to what is being done to you – the people making life difficult for you will make sure there is none to back up your side of the story (like my being taken out of the store and to a cafe to be told he thought I should get out of the company). It is important both for your confidence and self-respect to ensure that there is at least a report written up about it, and that it goes into the company records, probably through the HR department. There are also community and government organisations who can advise and direct you as to what actions can be taken.
Bullying, harassment, discrimination and prejudice are NEVER to be tolerated – anywhere! By anyone!
ThIs youngster who hit back made headlines. You can only be pushed so far, for so long.