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Corporate Wokeness, or My Vanishing Life at REI
By One Lone Lesbian
I recently put my employer — REI, the outdoor store — in a tough spot, by responding to its workplace trans rights prosletyzing with a dissent posted on Microsoft Teams, our in-store communication app. It might have caused less of a kerfuffle if I weren’t a liberal lesbian who co-founded local (Gay) Pride, but I am exactly that person. Kerfuffle ensued, yet disciplining me for stating my opposition to Co-op advocacy of “LGBTQ+ (is there another letter now?) rights” and financial support of Pride — obsolete for gay people, who in any case are no longer welcome unless they embrace gender ideology — would have created awkward optics.
I was not, in fact, disciplined, just given a tepid talking-to about being divisive by a boss I like who sort of regretfully toes the company line, and shunned by a few young co-workers whose brains have not developed sufficiently to support thinking. I’ll survive, though I’ll say it’s less invigorating than being castigated as a “sodomite” during our small Gay Pride march in 1991, which featured an alert pace, homemade signs advocating equal rights, a few K-12 teachers marching with paper bags over their heads, a fair amount of justified though well-contained terror, impressively Biblical heckling from anti-gay protestors, no floats and no shopping.
I miss those days.
A few years ago, REI celebrated women in a marketing campaign as a “Force of Nature.” Apparently, that was not edgy enough, involving as it did only half the world’s population without any new and sexy grievances. We employees have since seen campaigns aimed at assuring black people they are welcome at REI (a real shock to me) and encouraging us to select pronouns for our name tags. (I was refused my request for “Her Royal Highness.”) The Co-op also sells a line of “Outside with Pride” merchandise — for kids, too! — which confuses me, having never sensed Nature discriminating against my gay self.
Lately, REI has intensified its full-court press to support trans rights through histrionic press releases and increased prosyletizing of employees, most of whom would like to be left alone to sell tents and hiking boots.
A recent on-the-clock staff huddle included not only an enthusiastic update on Pride activities in which we’d been encouraged to participate, but a pitch to get us behind the (who could possibly object?) Equality Act. This, the Co-op promotes in typically blinkered fashion as a wholly beneficial effort to end discrimination against the “LGBTQZd+ community,” the continued grievous persecution of which I, as an L, have somehow remained ignorant. I guess I had it a lot easier being a closeted young gay person in the ’70s and ’80s, when most American families, schools, political and religious establishments were so welcoming. I might misremember that, though, along with the fabulous re-engineered nouns and pronouns others agreed to use to validate our specialness. (“Sodomite” counts, right?)
Or, it could be because LGB people — who seem to be doing fine, thanks, with our marriages dissolving no more frequently than straight people’s — have nothing to do with the rest. But you wouldn’t know that from trans activists, nor mainstream media that uncritically regurgitate their strategic forced teaming of disparate groups. The result exploits the hard-won acceptance of gay people in achieving basic equal rights to promote the routine social, medical and surgical “affirmation” of gender-dsyphoric minors, eliminate the historical sex-based rights of females, erase lesbians, and disparage as a bigot anyone who disagrees. I’ve heard the “LGBTQG8X+ community” associated with this madness so often that I’m starting to develop externalized homophobia.
Predictably, the Equality Act’s substantial downsides — especially for girls and women — went unmentioned at the staff huddle. I raised my hand to suggest that supplanting biological sex in law with “gender identity” might have consequences, and recommend my co-workers educate themselves. Subsequently, REI-endorsed pro-Equality Act flyers were left in the breakroom, so my young colleagues could — with no effort at all — aim their ubiquitous phones at a QR code that allowed them to send — with little more effort — a form letter to Congress. Because there is, apparently, an urgent need to protect the “LGBTQ5+1-√8 community” from an “onslaught” of measures that threaten their health and safety, which I take to mean various state laws that protect physically healthy children from medical and surgical mutilation and female spaces from trepass by males.
I stewed briefly with a Christian co-worker, who has arrived at approximately the same views as I via a different route. The solidarity I’ve felt from her and other conservative co-workers who discreetly thank me for speaking my mind — and theirs, to large degree — is heartening, though I wish more would say so publicly. In nearly 10 years at REI — my retirement gig — I’ve felt great affection for fellow green-vesters, and a sense of purpose in helping customers enjoy the great outdoors.
But the times, they are a-changin,’ and my feelings about the Co-op are changing, too, under persistent top-down pressure to support gender ideology. I don’t believe REI would ever go so far as other companies apparently have in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which greatly increased corporate influence inside and outside the workplace. Yet, the Co-op’s boundary issues have become increasingly apparent. REI now seems to view its large, mostly young workforce not only as employees, but as an army of malleable soldiers it can recruit to achieve political aims that have nothing to do with the outdoors.
That wasn’t in my job description when I was hired 10 years ago, and it still isn’t, as far as I know. So I’ll be quitting soon, unable to reconcile the present with a past in which REI declared women a Force of Nature, worthy of respect and consideration the Co-op appears to have since entirely forgotten.
I miss those days.
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