Auckland transgender personality Mary Haddock-Staniland has had so many difficult experiences in mainstream retail stores that she has just about given up shopping in person, but after a particularly rough confrontation in Farmers, she’s pushing for change.
Haddock-Staniland says disrespectful behaviour towards her from retail staff is so common in New Zealand that she rarely visits large chain stores, preferring instead to shop online or receive items through her commercial partnerships. However, upon visiting a Farmers branch in Botany Downs, she was rudely confronted by a female staff member in the women’s fashion department.
She claims the staffer asked her if she was a man or a woman, then described her within earshot of other customers as “half woman”. Haddock-Staniland explained that the interaction was especially hurtful as, when she informed the staff member that her behaviour was offensive, the woman laughed.
“I think there’s a huge misunderstanding that New Zealand is very accepting of diversity.”
Haddock-Staniland says she never intended to go to the media as “this sort of stuff happens to me all the time.” However, the story was picked up after a friend posted on Facebook about it, and media contacts she knew privately became aware of it.
“I’m not an attention seeker and this isn’t a PR stunt,” she says.
Her intention in putting together a press release and taking the incident public was to drive change in the retail industry. The backlash on social media and parts of the mainstream media has been violent, she says.
“If this is what I have to do in order to have my voice heard and for change to occur, I’ll do it.”
Haddock-Staniland says she understands it is difficult for retailers to control staff members who deliberately behave in a way they know is offensive, but feels that education, knowledge and common sense should all be part of meaningful inclusivity training.
“It’s all very well to have an HR policy… but do companies act to it or is it just a tick box?”
Haddock-Staniland recommended Rainbow Tick, which is a certifying organisation founded in 2014 to help businesses become a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for people of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation.
Haddock-Staniland met with Farmers representatives last week to discuss the incident. In response, Farmers this week announced it would adopt gender-neutral changing rooms in its shops.
Although she says she wasn’t aware of the gender-neutral changing rooms initiative prior to its being announced in the media, Haddock-Staniland is impressed with how seriously Farmers has taken her complaint, and approves of the steps they’ve taken to address it. She praised The Warehouse, Just Jeans, Jay Jays and Kmart for already using gender-neutral changing rooms: “I see it as beneficial to all.”
Haddock-Staniland has lodged a complaint with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission about her experience and expects to hear the outcome of their investigation in the next month.