Last week Nicole Arteaga went into a Walgreens to fill a prescription. The man behind the counter refused to fill it because of his sincerely-held beliefs. Nicole was already in deep emotional distress, she had wanted to have a baby. She was 9 weeks pregnant when the doctors learned the unborn child’s heart stopped beating. This prescription was to facilitate a flushing of the non living tissue that was once her hope and dream. She tried to explain this in the hopes of human decency and compassion from the man behind the counter. Instead she left in tears. Heartbroken, ashamed, and without rights.
Though it was not a refusal of service, my son and I faced discrimination by way of sincerely-held beliefs at a Walgreens once. Another time, at a Buffalo Wild Wings, my son was refused service by a waitress because of her sincerely-held beliefs. I have already told the story of wings denied. But I have never told our Walgreens story.
My Walgreens Story
My son’s name was not legally changed yet, but we did have it on file with the school, doctor, pharmacy, and quite a few other places where a name would have to be on file. There were special notes in the systems to call him by his chosen name and not his birth name, which many transgender people refer to as their dead-name. When someone deliberately calls you by your former name, it is called dead-naming. It is a deliberate and hurtful form of discrimination that often triggers harmful dysphoria.
One evening we went to Walgreens to fill his testosterone prescription. We do this monthly and we have never had an issue with the people working the pharmacy counter at Walgreens. That night we would have an issue.
I told the woman working the pharmacy counter we were there to pick up a prescription. With my son standing next to me I gave her his name and his date of birth. There is, by the way, a line. She furrowed her brow and asked for the address. I assumed she was looking at the birth name, but she did not see the notes regarding his name. I gave her the address and phone number on file and then went on to tell her to check the notes regarding the name. Then it happened.
She very curtly used his dead name. She said, “You mean you have a prescription for (dead-name)?” I saw my son wince. I refused to look about because I did not want to know if anyone in line heard the exchange. Hoping for the best, I assumed this was an honest mistake, so I said in a lowered voice, “Again. Please look at the notes on file for the information regarding his name.”
“Oh I see the notes.” she replied plainly, “But her name is (dead-name).” Now I knew it was deliberate. I kept glancing at my son and could see the pain on his face. I also knew we needed the testosterone. Again, I tried to get what we came for.
“Please don’t use that name again. You have the notes on file and the name you will use. May I have the prescription?” She pursed her lips for a moment and in a very official tone informed me something to the effect that she did not have a prescription for Dave, but perhaps there is one for the dead-name.
There was no mistaking this was dead-naming. This was deliberate. This was hurting him. I planted my hands on the counter, leaned forward, and through grit teeth and a raised voice I angrily said, “Say his name!” I felt a hand touch my right elbow. It is my son. “Let’s just go, dad.”
I walked away from the counter. We were leaving. I overheard two customers having a conversation about what they just saw. One congratulated the woman behind the counter for her bravery and her sincerely held belief. I stopped in the middle of the aisle. I wanted to punch or kick something. I wanted to tell that man off. Eye to eye. Face to face. Instead, in the middle of the aisle, I screamed one word loudly. “F***!” Then I continued to leave.
An hour later we were at a Walgreens one town over picking up his testosterone. I had told the manager there what had happened. He listened sympathetically but did not really have much to offer by way of recourse. Illinois, like Arizona, is one of 11 states that allow pharmacy counters to refuse to fill a prescription based on moral or religious objections. He informed me that she could wriggle out of the testosterone issue and likely hide behind the law regarding the name issue. He told me that he felt for me and my son, he doesn’t like the law, but there is likely little that can happen in recourse.
This woman had more rights than my son.
The Bigger Picture
When I wrote about my son being refused service at Buffalo Wild Wings, a lot of people sympathetic to his pain wanted to support him. They started writing negative reviews online about the restaurant and went after them on social media. My son wanted to write a response to this, and other responses regarding the story. I published a column with his responses in TransParent Expedition.
My son understood something that many reading his story did not. This was not about Buffalo Wild Wings. Shaming them would not change what happened or prevent it from happening anywhere else.
He said the following.
“What that woman said is not due to a fault in BWW’s company. Rather, it has to do with the fact that society is fundamentally flawed. Currently, we live in a society where the refusal to accept trans people is protected under religious freedom. We live in a society where the refusal to serve trans people is protected under religious freedom. This is not okay. There needs to be a stronger focus on EDUCATING the public, not reprimanding corporations that, quite honestly, have nothing to do with what this woman said. Reprimanding the corporations will not prevent more deaths. To do that, we have to change society.”
He is right. If we shame Walgreens and do not address the laws, then the same thing will happen in a CVS, Rite-Aid, or Wal-Mart down the street.
Where Is The Line?
Sincerely held beliefs have traumatized my son. Sincerely held beliefs have traumatized Nicole Arteaga. Recently, Trump Administration Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was refused service at a restaurant. The same people who have defended the rights of these pharmacists cry foul about this. Many have said comparing what happened to Sanders with what happened at a Colorado Bakery or an Arizona Walgreens to be false equivalencies. I agree with those who say this is not the same thing. If I am being honest, though. I do not know where the line is.
I do know that we need to challenge and change the laws that allow people with sincerely held beliefs to hurt women and children.