Gay Man Sues, Claiming Halloween Store Boss Used Homophobic Slurs and Threatened Him

Gay Man Sues, Claiming Halloween Store Boss Used Homophobic Slurs and Threatened Him

Trevor Anderson doesn’t recognize himself anymore. He hasn’t felt happiness in such a long time that he misses smiling. Anderson’s friends often tell him that they can see his pain radiating from his body, and he confesses over the phone that it hurts him to “know that they can see.” When he leaves his house, Anderson covers up with a mask and a baseball cap so no one can get a glimpse of his face. He doesn’t want anyone to recognize him and think to themselves, “Oh, that’s the guy I saw on the news.”

“It’s ruining my life,” he tells The Daily Beast. “It’s ruining my friendships. It’s ruining my relationships. I’m not Trevor anymore. I can’t believe that one man has completely changed my life, to where I don’t even recognize my feelings and my mind.”

LGBTQ+ advocacy group Fairness West Virginia filed a lawsuit on Anderson’s behalf in March after he says a manager at a Spirit Halloween store in Charleston berated him with homophobic slurs and threatened him. The altercation began, Anderson says, in October when he was returning some items purchased the day before. Anderson had been assembling a costume for a Clue-themed Halloween party, and his inspiration was Mr. Green, portrayed as a closeted gay man in a 1985 film adaptation of the board game.

As a queer person himself, Anderson decided to liberate Mr. Green by giving him a coming out party fit for 2022. Aiming for a more gender-fluid interpretation of the character, he purchased a plaid mini-skirt and a belly shirt, among other random accessories. Some of the items didn’t fit, and he had hoped to either get his money back or receive store credit.

But after approaching the front counter, Anderson says he was confronted by a manager who refused to allow him to return the purchases. Identified in the lawsuit as Thelmon Penn, Anderson recognized the man immediately: Penn was one of several Spirit Halloween employees who he alleges followed him around the store the previous day while he decided what to buy. Anderson says he wondered at first whether the staffers thought he was stealing, before he realized that they just wanted to gawk at him.

As Anderson attempted to have a conversation with Penn, he says the store manager rapidly became enraged, veins pulsing in his face. “Maybe you just shouldn’t be trying on women’s clothing,” Penn allegedly barked.

Things only further escalated from there. When Anderson demanded Penn’s name and contact information to file a complaint, he reportedly refused to give out his phone number. “I’m not giving my number to a faggot,” Anderson recalls the man saying. Not wanting a fight, Anderson says he began to collect his things to leave when Penn began to chase him out of the store, screaming: “Get out, get out, f***ing faggot.”

I could feel him breathing down my neck. I could feel him that close. I ran like the wind. I didn’t know where I was running. I just ran.

Trevor Anderson

“The minute I left the store, he was still behind me,” Anderson says. “I could feel him breathing down my neck. I could feel him that close. I ran like the wind. I didn’t know where I was running. I just ran.”

Because it was raining that day, Anderson took shelter in the entrance of a nearby DMV while he called his partner, Jonathan Pereira, who had also been present during the incident. After Pereira pushed his way through a crowd of people who had gathered in front of Spirit Halloween, Anderson walked to meet him at their car. That’s when Anderson says Penn spotted him through the mass of spectators and began charging at him across the parking lot.

Anderson says the image of Penn racing in his direction was “surreal.” “He didn’t have a shirt on,” he recalls. “In the hollow I grew up in, if somebody’s angry, they rip their shirt off. That’s rage.”

Although Anderson says he and his partner were able to make it to their vehicle and speed off before Penn was able to catch them, that moment still haunts him months later. He says that Penn began beating on the trunk as he screamed at the couple, threatening violence against them. Pereira was so paralyzed with fear that Anderson says he had to start the car himself from the passenger’s seat, pushing Pereira’s foot down and then pulling back the gear shift as they shot across the parking lot.

Anderson is seeking damages for the pain and suffering he alleges that he experienced as a result of that evening. In the six months since the incident detailed in his lawsuit, he says that he has become a “miserable person to be around.” He cries every single day. He says his partner has discussed leaving him and moving back to Virginia because he can’t deal with Anderson’s overwhelming trauma.

I want to feel safe. I just want to hold my boyfriend’s hand and be in the moment. That’s all I’ve wanted my whole life, and I’ll never, ever get that here.

Trevor Anderson

Perhaps worst of all, Anderson says he doesn’t have much hope left for his home state. When he was in his 20s, he says a company in West Virginia asked him to resign after his superiors found out that he was gay and paid him to keep quiet about it. Now at 37, he feels like things haven’t changed.

“I want to feel safe,” he says. “I just want to hold my boyfriend’s hand and be in the moment. That’s all I’ve wanted my whole life, and I’ll never, ever get that here.”

Anderson’s attorneys hope that the case can help make West Virginia a state where its LGBTQ+ residents can feel safe and protected. West Virginia has yet to pass a statewide law banning anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it one of 18 U.S. states with no statewide protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in areas like housing, health care, education, and public accomodations.

Ben Salango, who is representing Anderson in court, tells The Daily Beast that his legal team is challenging the lack of protections for LGBTQ+ West Virginians in places of public accommodation, including restaurants, hotels, and retail stores. Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that civil rights laws prohibiting sex-based discrimination also ban sex workers from being fired because of their LGBTQ+ identity, and Salango says the same standard must apply to Anderson’s case.

“There’s no legitimate or legal basis to not apply it in place of public accommodation,” Salango says of the landmark Bostock v. Clayton County decision. “The definition of sex can’t take on different meanings depending upon where the person was discriminated against, whether it was in an employment setting, public accommodation, or housing. It has to have the same definition.”

Fairness West Virginia, which is helping to spearhead Anderson’s legal case, has been fighting for these protections for decades. While the state has yet to enact virtually any statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights laws, the group has enjoyed tremendous success at the municipal level. At least 14 cities and towns in West Virginia have local ordinances on the books banning sexual orientation and gender identity bias, including Charleston, Morgantown, and Wheeling.

But Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, says the reality is that the vast majority of the state’s LGBTQ+ citizens remain unprotected. He estimates that local non-discrimination ordinances cover just 11% of the West Virginia’s population, totaling approximately 200,000 people in a state of 1.8 million.

“Unlike many states, we don’t have many cities,” Schneider tells The Daily Beast. “We are a collection of small towns. When we get communities to adopt these protections, they’re typically on the smaller side.”

This piece-meal approach has proven to be a heavy labor in West Virginia, the country’s most mountainous state. The town of Keyser, which enacted a non-discrimination ordinance in 2021, is home to just under 5,000 people, and Schneider says it would take “forever” to get every LGBTQ+ person protected if they went community by community. Thurmond, West Virginia’s smallest municipality, passed its own LGBTQ+ protections in 2015. It has a population of just five people.

Without comprehensive statewide protections in place, Schneider says anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination remains commonplace in West Virginia. In 2010, gay coal miner Sam Hall sued Spartan Mining Co., alleging years of harassment, intimidation, and death threats. According to Schneider, Hall left the position for a lower-paying job at Dollar General before eventually moving to Florida.

Sadly, Hall isn’t alone in being forced out of the state. Census data shows that West Virginians are fleeing in droves: Between 2010 and 2020, West Virginia experienced the largest decline in population of any state, a dip of 3.4%. Although those numbers include people seeking better economic opportunities and improved internet access in other states, Schneider says members of the LGBTQ+ community will be forced to keep taking part in the exodus unless they know that West Virginia is a safe place for them.

We actually have a name for it: We call them ‘missed mountaineers.’

Andrew Schneider

“We actually have a name for it: We call them ‘missed mountaineers,’” Schneider says of West Virginians moving away from the state. “It’s not just about the folks who leave. It’s about the family that they leave behind, the loved ones who can’t see their children anymore, because they’re all the way far across the country.”

LGBTQ+ advocates say there are signs that West Virginia could be headed in the right direction. Its GOP governor, Jim Justice, said in a 2020 gubernatorial debate that he would sign an LGBTQ+ non-discrimination bill if it were to reach his desk, and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, also a Republican, expressed support for such legislation in 2019. But even those hopes are tentative: Carmichael backtracked on his statement just over a month later, and Justice approved an anti-trans sports ban in 2021.

For his part, Anderson says that all he is looking for is an apology. He says that Spirit Halloween never reached out to him to express regret over the alleged incident, and his attorneys assert that they have no knowledge of Penn facing disciplinary action. (The Daily Beast has reached out to the company for comment and will update this story if a representative responds.)

It can’t be for nothing. There’s going to be something positive.

Trevor Anderson

Anderson says he doesn’t know what the future holds. He doesn’t want to leave West Virginia, but it’s difficult for him to picture what the rest of his life looks like if he stays. He has struggled to find steady mental health support in the state and picked up smoking to help him deal with his anxiety. Friends tell him that he needs to be more careful and to carry a gun with him at all times, and he says their concern for him just makes his inner turmoil so much worse.

But through it all, Anderson is looking for his silver lining. As he watches the wind blow through the trees outside his window, he says that he is hopeful that sharing his story makes a difference — whether it’s by affecting statewide policy or just helping someone out there feel less alone.

“It can’t be for nothing,” he says. “There’s going to be something positive. Something good is going to come out of it.”

Source: Culled From The Daily Beast.

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