As a gay person of color, Sruti Swaminathan knows that a bad decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission could have a dramatically harmful impact on the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups.
"It's a shame that people fear those who are unlike them, so far as to let a person's gender identity and sexual orientation impact their ability to treat them with human dignity," Swaminathan told Church & State. "It is a loss of a meaningful human connection to turn someone away from a business based on an identity so innate and immutable to their person."
Swaminathan, an Indian-American lawyer, said that there have been a number of instances in which her sexuality and gender presentation has led to personal experiences with discrimination and harassment.
"An experience that sticks out to me is when I walked into Men's Warehouse in Washington, D.C., to buy a tuxedo shirt for my law school's Barrister's Ball. The minute I stepped in the store, every single employee's eyes darted in my direction and looked me up and down," she said. "As a queer, masculine-presenting Indian woman, I am used to the scrutiny and questioning eyes on me on the street and other public spaces. However, the store manager took it one step further. Without even asking me what I was looking for, he approached me and said, 'We can't help you here.' I quietly walked out of the store."
Although Swaminathan lives in Chelsea in New York City, a neighborhood she acknowledges some would refer to as a "gay mecca," she said she's experienced verbal harassment because she wears what some people perceive as "men's wear," which she describes as "dapper comfort."
One morning, while walking to a subway station, a man approached her and started walking beside her, verbally abusing her about her sexuality along the way.
"I luckily had headphones in to drown out words that I assumed would be some form of catcalling. I was incorrect," Swaminathan said. "This stranger felt the need to scream in my face repeatedly 'change back into a woman' followed by T can f*** you back into a woman.' These statements were screamed at me until the minute I stepped down the subway stairs. I did not respond to his commentary, tears just began pouring down my face. I felt unsafe. I felt violated. I felt undesired. I felt other."
Experiences of discrimination, harassment and abuse like Swaminathan's are a frightening reality for the LGBTQ community.
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