The teenage years are difficult enough, but for LGBTQ youths, they can be especially hard. That has certainly been true for Rye Fruehling, a 16-year-old gay boy who works at a restaurant at The Village in Meridian. He wanted to talk with Boise Weekly about a recent experience at work with homophobia, and how it made him feel.
It took the form of a Google review that read, “Being greeted at the host desk by man with purple eye-shadow is not my idea of a good restaurant experience. Glad I didn’t have my kids with me.”
BW: How were you made aware of the review?
RF: A manager pulled me into the office on Friday, June 12, and showed me the complaint. My manager said, “You know I’m not going to ask you to change yourself … but.” He said we have a dress code that’s all black clothing and shoes, and I’m thinking, “What does that have to do with the makeup on my face?”
I asked what the point of the conversation was. I felt like I was going to get fired or told not to wear make-up, but that didn’t happen. I feel like they just showed me to kind of like intimidate me, but this is the first job I’ve had since I’ve been out of the closet.
I have tough skin but the second I left the meeting I went into the bathroom and cried. It was at the beginning of my shift, I had to keep working and I felt like I didn’t belong.
BW: You had a different job before you came out as gay. Are you treated differently now?
RF: It feels more intense with higher stakes and definitely more dangerous. I’m more worried about my safety. I was going to retaliate to the man who wrote the review and write something back but I don’t want to get hurt or stoop to his level.
When you’re not out, you feel safe in the eyes of other people but there’s inner turmoil.
BW: What has it been like coming out of the closet?
RF: In eighth grade I had a group of four best friends and we’d been best friends since second grade. Around eighth grade was when I started to feel different, and they all turned on me and bullied me and it went on for months. I lost all my friends and I wasn’t even sure that I was gay at the time. It opened up an existential crisis inside of me, like, “Am I gay?” I didn’t know.
The point is, those friends took that decision from me by bullying me and making me feel ashamed. I might have come out sooner.
BW: Have you been back to work since the meeting?
RF: Yes, I’ve worked three shifts, still wearing my make-up. My co-worker told me the manager says my nickname is rye-shadow now. He hasn’t said it to my face and I don’t know how I feel about that.
BW: What would you say to other LGBTQ youth that might be in a similar situation?
RF: I would say be 100% yourself and keep your strength and give yourself self care. Don’t half yourself; go 100%. It’s hard but it gets easier. And with school, remember, you aren’t alone: People are going through this in schools all over the world and you can make it through.
I don’t think anyone could have said anything to me to make my inner battle easier, but you can make it through. It’s really about self-love and strength. There’s a place for every person in this world. People shouldn’t have to hide who they are to be accepted. We are people and should be able to go anywhere comfortably, dressed as we like.