Years After Facing Employment Discrimination, Bisexual Floridian Reflects on Importance of Visibility, Support & Pride
Editors’ Note: This story is a part of the #BiStories project, the first national survey exploring the intersections of bisexual Americans and the need for comprehensive non-discrimination protections. The #BiStories Project is proudly led by BiNet USA and Freedom for All Americans. Learn more about the #BiStories Project here – and click here to add your own.
“When I was younger, there was no hiding the fact that I was bisexual,” Jessie Mackesy said, remembering how she would wear bracelets, T-shirts, and any article of clothing she could get her hands on that declared her bisexual pride. As a teenager, she would date both boys and girls, and it didn’t occur to her that she would face pushback for who she was. As a bisexual person, Jessie has the potential to be attracted to people of more than one sex or gender – not necessarily at the same time, or in the same way, or to the same degree.
“To me personally, it was normal,” she said. She remembers thinking, “If I wasn’t meant to be this way, I wouldn’t be this way. I wouldn’t feel this way.”
“I didn’t personally see any reason to keep it quiet or hidden until people started discriminating against me,” she said.
But throughout her life, Jessie, who identifies as a bisexual queer person, has regularly been confronted with discrimination – often from people who have challenged her identity and worked to make her feel like less of a person. “People began abusing me, calling me names, and calling me out,” she said, reflecting specifically on the painful rejection from some members of her family.
But one experience stands out as a particularly stark example of discrimination – years ago in Florida, Jessie was fired from her job because of her sexual orientation. And while the incident occurred many years ago, discrimination like remains all too common, with no state laws in place in Florida or at the national level ensuring equal treatment for LGBT individuals.
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In her late teenage years Jessie, having faced abuse from her family, found herself homeless, with no permanent place to live and an urgent need to earn money. She began working as a day laborer in Daytona Beach, Florida – and she quickly got placed doing housekeeping and maid work at a hotel.
Every day she reported for work very early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4:30am. She would work for the day, changing rooms and cleaning up, and at the end of the day she’d get paid by check.
The work was fine for the first few days: “I would work my eight hours, and the co-workers and supervisors there liked me and were sociable with me. It was all fine,” she said.
But soon some of Jessie’s coworkers made the connection that another employee who had worked day labor at that same hotel a few weeks before was Jessie’s girlfriend.
“I guess someone saw me kiss her on the cheek, hold her hand, or something like that, and that’s when rumors started flying and all hell broke loose,” Jessie said. She began being harassed daily at work – by coworkers and by people in management positions alike. “It was constant, little jabs at me. One time another maid bumped into me and said, ‘Oh, now I have to go wash your germs off of me.’ It was crazy.”
“The last straw was when the management person at night sat me down and said, “We don’t want our guests to get the wrong idea about what kind of hotel we’re running. We don’t want queers at our establishment. So we need to let you go.”
Jessie was stunned and felt rejected. “I collected my last 75 dollar check from the day labor place – and when I did, they explained to her, “The hotel called and said they let you go because it wasn’t working. It just wasn’t the right fit.”
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Despite the struggles she has faced in her life, Jessie said, “There’s a rainbow at the end of the tunnel.” Sixteen years ago, she met a man, became friends with him, and they fell in love in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“He says I changed his life for the better – but no, he changed my life for the better. My spouse loves me and supports me and respects me.”
The two have been married for sixteen years – and she said he is one of her most supportive allies. Jessie still identifies as bisexual although she has been married to a man for so many years – she finds that people often have the misconception that bisexual people stop being bisexual when they settle down with someone, which is simply false. For bi people, their bisexuality is part of their innermost sense of self.
“When we started talking, I told him right away who I am,” Jessie said. “I said I’m bisexual, I can’t go back in the closet, I was born this way. We wanted to start really honest and straightforward. Now, whenever he hears or sees someone online saying anything negative about me or anyone else – one of his pet peeves is when people say bisexuality is a choice – he stands up to them.”
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In a majority of the United States, state laws do not explicitly prohibit employment, housing, or public accommodations discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes Florida, where Jessie lives with her husband.
That means that when discrimination does occur against the LGBT community, they have no legal recourse – the same discrimination Jessie faced as a 19-year-old could still occur today in Florida.
“If everything was good and proper, with full non-discrimination protections here in Florida, I would feel more free,” Jessie said. “If things were better, if things changed, it would be freeing. It would be awesome and amazing. Even though I’m not in the closet, it sometimes feels like I’m buried under a closet.”
Jessie said it’s vital that all people who support equality stand up for all LGBT people – including bisexual people. And this week, during Bisexual Awareness Week, it’s the perfect time to stand up for the community.
“We all should be standing up for one another. And we can’t do that if we’re holding up our guards. I think it’s important to be out there, to celebrate who we are and be who we are. We need to stand up together. If we keep being quiet and not being our authentic selves, we’re going to be shut down and ignored even more. We’re not going to be given equal rights because we’re allowing people to step over and trample over us.”
Jessie is proud to be a part of the #BiStories project by BiNet USA and Freedom for All Americans – and she knows that more LGBT people raising their voices and sharing their stories is instrumental to advancing comprehensive non-discrimination protections.
“I like talking about my life experience, because maybe someone else has gone through something similar, and they can feel stronger by reading my story,” she said. “When you hear someone else going through the same thing, it gives people power and strength.”