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July 30, 2009

You Can Break Windows But You Can't Break Us

We're a little late on this story from The Sexist because of our Chicago trip, but I think it's still worth addressing. An American Apparel store in the D.C. area was vandalized recently, and another nearby store is receiving threatening phone calls. Why? Because they had the nerve to set up a window display featuring some shirts with the slogan "Legalize Gay".

When Kassandra Powell arrived for work at the Silver Spring American Apparel store yesterday morning, she was met with a crowd, a police car, and a broken window. “I was told that the [security alarm] went off at 5:15 a.m.,” she says.

Powell, a store manager, had reason to believe that the early-morning glass-shattering was more than your average retail break-in. Nothing was stolen from the store—including the anti-Prop-8 t-shirts prominently displayed on the opposite side of the glass.

This morning, the Georgetown American Apparel location experienced its own attack from an upset window shopper—this time, over the telephone. Around 10:30 a.m., visual merchandiser Walter Reed fielded a call from a male who was “enraged for no reason.”

“He was like, is this the Silver Spring location? And I said, ‘No, this is the Georgetown location, ‘” says Reed. “He said, ‘You have some Legalize Gay shirts in the window there.’ He said that he and his friends found it offensive, and that if we didn’t take them down, they were going to break it—the window,” said Reed. “I said, ‘Is that a threat, Sir?’ And then he hung up.” [The Sexist]

This is the "offending" shirt, which was originally produced during the protests against Prop 8 last fall.

The display was temporarily removed from the vandalized store, but it was quickly replaced, and the company released a statement in response to the incident:
Yesterday an American Apparel store in Silver Spring, Maryland had a window broken by someone upset over the company's support for gay marriage. Our Georgetown location and others in the areas have received similar threats. We just wanted to use this forum here to announce that not only are they not going to prevent us from speaking out on an issue that is important to this company and our employees but we'll continue to run Legalize Gay advertisements in papers across the DC-Metro area. We'll also send Legalize Gay t-shirts to any group in Washington DC that is fighting for gay rights and will help support any protest or rally for the cause.

We don't find this kind of thing funny and we definitely don't find it intimidating. Thanks to everyone who has reached out to us and if you need anything please contact: Jonny at jonnys@americanapparel.net or (213) 488-0226. [American Apparel]

Is American Apparel a perfect company? No, far far far from it. But in this case, I'd say they're handling the situation in the best possible way. Unfortunately, the people responsible for the vandalism are continuing to harass the stores.
Yesterday, the Silver Spring location received another threat over the phone in regards to the anti-Prop-8 shirts, which an anonymous employee recounts for WJLA: “Why is that T-shirt still in the window? You should take it down or something will happen to you.”

On Wednesday, American Apparel’s Silver Spring store received the chain’s latest threatening phone call in response to its anti-Prop-8 “Legalize Gay” T-shirts.

“Five minutes ago, I just answered the phone and got a death threat from a man with a bad phone connection,” the female Silver Spring employee wrote to superiors in an e-mail. The caller asked the employee why the pro-gay shirts were still on display, then threatened to take action. He said, “If I didn’t take it down, bad things can happen to me, resulting in drastic measures,” she wrote.

A rep for American Apparel says that since the story made the news, the stores have also gotten lots of supportive phone calls. The company is planning to put additional "Legalize Gay" displays (and more security to go with them) into more stores in the area.

I gotta say, how cowardly do you have to be to decide that you're going to stage your big homophobic throwdown against...a t-shirt. On a mannequin. In a closed clothing store. Now, obviously I'm not remotely suggesting that it would be better for this person to target real people instead. But, of course that begs the question - if you're so offended by this shirt that you feel entitled to throw rocks (or whatever the weapon of choice was) through a window where the shirts are on display, what happens when you see someone walking down the street wearing it? Are you going to throw rocks at us too? Or is the upgrade from vandalism to threatening phone calls satisfying enough for you?

This is a lazy and pathetic attempt to intimidate people. It's also a completely unacceptable way to express your opinion. If you don't like the message of these shirts, call American Apparel and tell them. Refuse to spend your money on AA products if you don't like the causes that they support. Use your words and your wallet to get the point across, not rocks and broken glass. Of course, going that route doesn't have that added benefit of the threat, of trying to silence people by making them afraid of what might happen if they speak out.

Of course, this brilliant plan has backfired entirely, now that the media coverage of this harassment has made so many more people across the country aware that these shirts exist. And hey, just for fun, let's see what our friends at the FBI might have to say about a bias-motivated act of vandalism.
A hate crime, also known as a bias crime, is a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.

...Robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, and destruction/damage/vandalism comprise the offense types that the Program considers crimes against property.
Also, sexual orientation is included in both Maryland and D.C. hate crimes laws. So this person should definitely keep at it until he's caught. Any resulting punishment would just give him more fuel for his irrational hatred of gay people, which is apparently all he has in his sad life if this t-shirt crusade is how he chooses to spend his time. I never thought I'd say anything even close to this, but hearing about idiotic and immature behavior like this almost makes me have a little bit of respect for the slightly more reasonable approach of the One Million Moms.


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Rachel said...

This story is doubly irritating to me, because I've had it with American Apparel. The fact that they'll most likely get great press off this and increase business just makes the whole situation that much more infuriating.

bad-boy said...

As a straight male I have an incident that resonates with me. Once while walking in NYC Greenwich village a car stopped and a guy propositioned me. I brushed him off. About a week later I heard on the news about a gang that was robbing gays in the village using the method of picking them up in cars and driving to an area where they were ambushed. I'll never know if that guy was part of the so called gang.