You may recall earlier in the year we reported that the folks at Big Burrito had made an ill-conceived attempt at humor by referencing Caitlyn Jenner in their “celebrity” portion of their menu at the Mad Mex restaurants. After backlash from the community, Chef Bill Fuller and his team pulled the menu and issued an apology.
I asked Chef Fuller to sit down with members of the trans community to discuss the matter in more depth because I was unconvinced that he really understood how and why the joke was harmful and hurtful. He agreed. So I joined local trans activists Brandon Harper, Mae Fetu and Trish Mifflin for lunch one afternoon with Chef Fuller and some of his team. Let me clarify here – I attended the meeting as an observer and because I am the one who called out the company. I wasn’t attempting to speak for the trans community. I’m sure I spoke more than I should, but I was trying to just follow through on my request that Big Burrito meet with the community. I remain very grateful that Mae, Brandon and Trish took time to lead the meeting.
Two favorite moments: Mae turned to Seth Jackson the menu guy and told him to look her in the eye while he ‘explained’ his joke about Caitlyn Jenner. The other equally brave and awesome moment was Brandon pulling out his current and former drivers licenses to illustrate the points they were making about identity. It was real, raw and revelatory (to me, for sure.)
My thoughts at the time:
My impression is that the Mad Mex folks took it seriously and walked away with some next steps to follow. These include sending job notices to all local LGBTQ organizations, revamping their internal non-discrimination policies to specifically include gender identity and gender expression, and providing food/fundraising supports to transcentric organizations. We also talked about Big Burrito using their social media cache to amplify local trans and queer information. I can’t say for sure what they will do, but I think they understand that more is required to say Big Burrito Group is truly culturally competent when it comes to the trans community.
Earlier this month, I learned that Big Burrito had followed through on some of the matters we discussed, specifically updating their internal policies and procedures with the assistance of Persad Center. They amended non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to specify sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. And the documents reference staff, vendors and customers which lays the policy foundation for the company to address very concrete issues raised during the meeting. Such as:
- Treating customers with respect when an ID is required (to purchase alcohol) and the name and/or gender marker doesn’t seem to align with the person’s presentation. [Incorporating training grounded in a clear policy statement is a solid move.]
- Procedures for protecting the confidentiality of trans employees who are not out to their coworkers but may need to disclose information for certain legal reasons such as payroll or health insurance. [Again, training connected to a clear ‘need to know’ policy around ANY confidential information.]
- Creating an environment that signals to the trans community that they are welcome and valued as customers and employees. [Mae pointed out that people could have read the joke in the menu, walked out and never known it was addressed with an apology or a meeting. More is required.]
There’s room to grow, for sure. But I really appreciate that Chef Fuller and the Big Burrito team took the time to listen to the trans community directly and then work with a reputable organization to develop an organizational response. I should clarify here that Persad was NOT part of this meeting. During the conversation, Chef Fuller mentioned that they worked closely with Persad on fundraising and other supports. They took the initiative to contact Persad to consult on the policies. That’s how it is supposed to work – listen to the members of the community and work with resources in hand to do better.
I’d like to see Big Burrito take it one step further in the near future and host some sort of event or fundraiser or Happy Hour that is centered on the trans community. Not the LGBTQ community, the trans community in particular. I am not trans so I’m not going to delve into what that looks like, simply point out that hospitality often requires specifically inviting people to your space and taking steps to make them feel welcome. In fact, it is sort of necessary when you ask people to give you a second chance.
Imagine going from the restaurant that took a nasty shot at Caitlyn Jenner to the restaurant that is considered most welcoming and respectful of the trans community IN THE REGION? That’s something to which Big Burrito should aspire after this experience.