my intern is refusing assignments because of her politics

A reader writes:

I run a large museum, and we are currently running a major special exhibition. We’ve been asked to give a private tour of this exhibition to a prominent and controversial political figure.

I have a summer intern and have offered to let her come along as an observer. This kind of inclusion would usually be considered a major perk for an intern. But she is adamantly refusing, citing this person’s political views and threatening to physically attack him if she is “forced” to be in his presence. She is also refusing to do any of the logistical or planning tasks that would normally fall to her, and that’s a problem as well.

I completely and totally agree with her opinion of this politician’s views and behavior. I’m active in social justice work and have literally protested outside his office in the past. But my perspective is that my personal views aren’t relevant in these circumstances, and a significant part of my job is representing my museum with dignity, even when I really don’t want to. I will never agree with this politician but at the very least, this is a good opportunity for us to showcase to him the value of well-funded cultural institutions.

I’ve told my intern she can sit this one out, but I feel like we need to have a conversation about this when the dust settles. I am very torn, though. I don’t want to force anyone to do something they don’t believe in, but I worry she will be shooting herself in the foot if this is her stance in the long term. What advice would you give me?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 265 comments… read them below }

  1. Baron*

    I sympathize with the intern – I do! I’m now ED of a cultural institution located in an area where the politicians’ views differ from mine considerably. Just now, we were visited by a former staff member to an elected official who I think has done a lot of harm. I couldn’t have provided professional service in this role when I was 19. There remain a handful of public figures I would find it difficult to be my best self with.

    But part of working in culture is the hope that your work can help people grow and change. Another part is providing equitable service to all, whether we like them or not.

    1. megan*

      Not to mention the part where you DON’T PHYSICALLY ATTACK SOMEONE over a disagreement! She should be given a formal warning. Threats of violence are never okay in the workplace.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        To be fair, I’m imagining that comment was more of a hyperbolic reaction to the idea of having to be in the same room as this person (e.g. “I don’t know if I’d be able to resist the urge to punch him in the face”). Still not okay to say to your boss, but I can imagine myself making a similar comment to my husband or a friend about someone I truly loathed (with no actual plan of follow-through).

        1. Anon4This*

          I think it all the time about the loudmouthed politician who recently had their govt account suspended for posting hateful (and batshit bananapants) rhetoric. I’m not a violent person.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          Yeah, I’m assuming this phrasing means, “I hate this person so much that I cannot be in their presence.”

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It definitely does, but that said there are still limitations to what you can say in a professional context. I don’t know if I would go so far as to discipline an employee for feeling heated and sharing that sentiment, but we’d have a talk about professionalism.

            If someone overheard that and it got back to the press or this guy’s security detail, it could go very poorly for OP, the intern, and the institution.

            1. wordswords*

              Yeah, agreed. And the fact that this is an intern makes this a particularly useful educational point. This “if I was in the same room with him, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop myself from punching him in the face” rhetoric is fairly common in a lot of more casual spaces and groups, and one of the big lessons of the working world for a lot of people is what kind of casual hyperbole doesn’t fly in a professional setting. It’s not that it’s more acceptable coming from an intern, but there’s more leeway for teaching an intern about professional behavior, whereas with someone who’d been in white-collar office jobs for years I’d assume they should already know.

              If I saw somebody say that on tumblr, I might roll my eyes depending on context, but calling it “threatening physical violence” would be an overreaction and probably a deliberately a bad-faith reading, in most contexts. If somebody says that in the workplace, though, “threatening physical violence” is an accurate description and a useful way to highlight how inappropriate it comes across in the context — because in a professional setting, you just can’t do that kind of hyperbole.

              If she meant it less as that kind of hyperbole, and more as a dead serious “punch Nazis to deny them a platform” kind of tactic — well, then, there’s still an important discussion to be had about what tactics and times and places are likely to cause repercussions including problems for the institution, endangering your job, etc. Then the intern can decide based what’s worth that cost, and what jobs she isn’t willing to take because of it, and so on. And, again, as an internship supervisor who shares at least some of her politics, OP is pretty well placed to be able to go “Look, I get where you’re coming from, but these are the kinds of consequences you might face for talking like this in the workplace, and these are the kinds of consequences you might face for actually doing that, and you need to be aware of that.”

        3. Well...*

          Ehhh IDK I’ve seen this kind of rhetoric fly in activist spaces. I’m not a fan, but I’ve met (mostly young students) people who would say this is an ethical response. I got a lot of important work done alongside such people, but I really don’t agree with them on this.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            I found the update which says he isn’t a Nazi (literal or figurative), else I’d argue that praxis comes in many forms.

        4. NerdyKris*

          There’s an update with more details about the person and the comment. I’m not sure if it’s acceptable to link to it since it technically links to the non INC version of the post.

        5. Observer*

          Still not okay to say to your boss, but I can imagine myself making a similar comment to my husband or a friend about someone I truly loathed

          Yes, there is a fundamental difference between a private interaction with someone you are close to and knows you well, and the workplace.

        6. KatEnigma*

          If she had used “hyperbole” like that about anyone else , just about, she would be fired. There is normally a zero tolerance policy for that, and you don’t get to say you didn’t mean it.

        7. Blue*

          I think the intern likely did mean it in a hyperbolic fashion, but two factors make this more serious

          1) What’s appropriate for work is different from what’s appropriate in a more casual setting
          2) When people say this about terrible public figures, they’re often not in a position where they will actually encounter them IRL, but this intern would be in the same room as the political figure, and that makes it less hypothetical.

      2. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

        That was the line for me, even if it is a joke. It’s just not appropriate to say, especially in the workplace. For someone just starting out, I don’t think something like this is worthy of firing, but definitely a serious talking-to.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          This is where I fall as well, intern can sit this one out and then after the visit is over a conversation is had about what’s acceptable to say in the workplace and what you save for at home with spouse/partner/family as a venting session.

          But that’s a part of the internship experience as well – learning how work “works” and what office etiquette looks like.

      3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        “Not to mention the part where you DON’T PHYSICALLY ATTACK SOMEONE over a disagreement”

        I agree with not physically attacking someone, but I disagree with characterizing all political conflicts as “a disagreement. ” There are politicians who want to “eliminate” my Trans son, for example.

            1. allathian*

              I have trans cousins, too. Thankfully I’m in an area where trans rights are improving, but there are some politicians who’d love to turn the clock back if they could, and I find their opinions despicable.

        1. April*

          Yeah. There’s politicians where… okay, I wouldn’t resort to physical violence, but I would not personally be comfortable in the presence of someone whose public stance is largely about how people like me shouldn’t exist. I could probably handle housing/transportation logistics, but I would do everything possible to avoid ever interacting with them in person. (Aside from the rest of it, what in the world would I get out of it? They’re hardly going to provide good networking to someone they think shouldn’t be alive!)

        2. I have RBF*

          Seriously. It’s not a “disagreement” when the other person has the stance that you should not be allowed to exist as yourself – whether it’s trans, homosexual, or even “liberal”. I don’t want to physically be in the presence of someone who wants me eliminated, because I would feel like I might have to physically defend myself against a person with hateful rhetoric like that – if they are willing to say it, I assume they will be willing to do it.

          While I wouldn’t “punch the nazi” on work time (i.e. start violence), I would feel threatened by that person and make sure that they could not attack me.

      4. Miss Manners Does Not Approve of Fascism*

        It is always appropriate to punch nazis.

        Is that what we’re talking about in this situation? Actual full-on nazis? There’s not enough information to tell. But sadly it’s more likely to be the case than it used to be.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          There was an update to the original letter and the LW wrote:

          the politician in question is not a Nazi, literal or otherwise. He is a dyed-in-the-wool right-wing conservative with whom I disagree on virtually every issue. He is controversial in part because of his private life, which he has made part of his public persona – otherwise, I would believe that his private life is no one’s business but his. To avoid starting another firestorm, I want to make it clear that as far as I know, he has not been implicated in the #MeToo movement. He has, however, been repeatedly accused of cronyism and nepotism, and embodies the cliche of the “family values” politician who regularly trades in his wife for a younger model.

    2. Observer*

      I couldn’t have provided professional service in this role when I was 19.

      I hear that. The thing is that the intern was actually 27-28 years old.

      But part of working in culture is the hope that your work can help people grow and change. Another part is providing equitable service to all, whether we like them or not.

      Yes, and it would be useful to hear that at any age, even if it were a hard lesson to take.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        Not necessarily, the update said the institution’s interns are “often” age 27 or 28. The age of this particular person was not specified.

    3. Artemesia*

      Absolutely. I am sure I agree with this intern, but this is egregious behavior. You cannot fail to provide service on political grounds. Ask her if it is okay for bakers to deny wedding cakes to gay people? Or a local library to deny use of its computers to a pro-choice advocate?

      Yes, it could have been handled gracefully but she didn’t. And ultimately it is in appropriate behavior not compatible with the internship or working at your organization. She needs schooling and this needs to not happen again.

      1. Basalt*

        This is really not the same thing. Legally (in most cases) and many would argue morally as well.

      2. STLBlues*

        The Supreme Court *unfortunately* says that bakers absolutely can refuse to provide wedding cakes to gay people. So, in the UpsiDown that the US exists in at the moment, this may not be a great example.

    4. I'll Take Your Money*

      Definitely discuss this with her. You can’t force her to think differently but you can give her the benefit of another perspective.

      I’m in advertising; we run ads all the time for politicians that I despise. But it’s not my job to censor their information; it’s my job to sell them the ad space. And cash their checks.

    5. OhNoYouDidn't*

      It’s not just a part of working in culture, it’s part of being a mature adult in a civilized society. Tolerance goes both ways.

      1. vegan*

        Professionally, the intern will have to abide.

        But to me, there is nothing to tolerate about anyone trying to erase people, human beings.

  2. Jennifer Strange*

    I feel for both the LW and the intern. I previously worked in the fundraising department of a non-profit organization that is literally on Capitol Hill and our Gala was almost always attended by political figures ranging from those I admired to those I disliked to those I truly felt were doing harm to our country. Did it suck to have to put on a face? Yup. But it was part of the job. (Thankfully at these events I mostly ran the check-in tables, and most of these folks had secret service/assistants check them in, so I didn’t have to interact with them much.)

  3. Tinkerbell*

    Ugh. Personally, I’d see a big difference between if the intern’s job is to coordinate logistics versus follow the politician around and act as the face of the museum (including bending to his whims if he wants to pull a Karen and demand things that are not normally offered to guests). If I were the intern, I’d probably bend the dress code as much as possible (rainbow socks, religious necklace, whatever I’m allowed that fits the group I identify with) and try to keep my mouth shut… but it’s also reasonable to ask if there’s someone, anyone, else who can do the face-to-face part!

    1. Totally Minnie*

      When I worked in a library, I had to give this kind of a tour for the county commissioner whose district my library branch was in. This particular commissioner stood for a great many things that I stand against, and I’ve been known to deliver impassioned rants in my personal about how much I loathe him. But he was the elected official who oversaw my work, and not giving him a tour of the library was not in any way an option. So I gave the requested tour, complete with access to the parts of the building where regular customers can’t go and answers to questions that we couldn’t give to the general public. And then I went home for dinner with my family and ranted about all the gross things he said and how much I disliked having to be nice to him.

      If you work in an area that is regulated or funded by the government, this is part of the job and it’s not negotiable.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      So, we had a bunch of people invited to the First Lady’s (state, not national) luncheon as a thank you for her awareness project a few years back. Great project, terrible governor. (Now no longer in office.) The people who went saw it as a fact-finding mission in enemy territory.

      1. Frodo*

        I had to work an event where a certain former press secretary who likes to chew lots of gum was going to be a guest speaker. I informed my boss that I had committed to an important family function on that day that was mandatory. I was then called into the owner’s office and was treated like a child, demanding to know if I’d spoken to other employees about my views of this guest speaker. I played dumb and said I didnt know what he was talking about as I’d already asked for the day off to attend my fathers 70th birthday party. I stood firm, and they had no choice but to believe me or fire me. The truth was, if it had been Melissa McCarthy doing her spot-on impression I would have gladly attended. Period.

  4. L-squared*

    Saying she would physically attack them is pretty over the top, so that definitely warrants a conversation.

    At the same time, I also don’t think she should be forced to do a private tour for someone like this. If this was an employee working at the snack shop, and tried to not serve them, I feel like that would be a problem. But giving a private tour is kind of like giving the white glove treatment, and that is something i feel anyone should have the ability to opt out of. If the museum itself wants to roll out the red carpet, that is their choice, but I don’t think any staff should be forced to have private interaction like this.

    However, I also don’t think she should be able to opt out of doing paperwork or anything. To me there is a definitely line between “I don’t want to personally have to walk around with this person (and possibly be in pictures with them), and I don’t want to support my employer for doing this.

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      I agree. But it doesn’t sound like she would be doing the tour herself, just shadowing whoever is doing the tour. But I do think she should still do the stuff leading up to the event.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s important to note that they’re not “rolling out the red carpet” or doing this for a photo op. This is a point OP makes in the update to this letter, but it’s also just something I know from having worked a job like this.

      High profile visitors are incredibly disruptive to the other visitors in the museum, particularly if they need special security considerations. That disruption may just be in terms of comfort and privacy, or it might be a real security risk. The museum needs to take that into consideration. The choice isn’t “treat this guy like royalty so we look good”, it’s “if we don’t handle this a certain way, it’s going to really suck and open us up to a ton of liability”.

      All that said – anything that might be a “perk”, not a legitimate function of the job, should be opt-outable. And I agree with you, the logistical nonsense sounds like a key part of the job, so that needs to be done regardless.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly I think that not wanting to be seen with person is also fair – but you don’t have to be seen with him to handle logistics. And it sounds like logistics are a normal part of the intern workload at this place. That to me is also something that intern needs to be talked to about. You’re not doing logistics for “Person” but for the organization you are interning for.

    4. Francie Foxglove*

      Yeah, I would stipulate that I would not be in photos with this person, and my name would not be mentioned. I would do my job, but I would not want to have to defend myself on social media.

    5. Wintermute*

      They went over this extensively in the original, with a lot of people weighing in.

      it’s not so much ‘rolling out the red carpet” as it is “minimizing disruptions to the institution and staff. It also can be an element of showing, as covertly and politely as you can, disapproval (e.g. a politician they like will get to come through with a daytime velvet rope treatment and be publicly seen in the institution, one they don’t want associated with them will be given a quiet, private tour after closing time). In all cases people with experience in the field said this was not special treatment it was normal treatment for anyone whose presence and fame could cause a disruption.

  5. Chairman of the Bored*

    IMO the intern very clearly and 100% lost this one when she threatened to physically attack somebody at work.

    Sitting out a particular visitor for personal reasons might be defensible. Saying you’re going to rough that visitor up if you two are in the same room is not.

    1. Random Dice*

      Even if she had just said she wanted “to punch him”, not ok.

      But what she actually said was so much more extreme, and detailed, that I’d be pulling out my workplace violence “behaviors of concern” checklist.

      “I hate that guy so much. If you forced me to have anything to do with him I would keep punching him and punching him and punching him until he fell over on his stupid smug face.”

    2. Dinwar*

      That’s where I stand. I can understand detesting someone’s politics, I can see detesting their policies. But this intern made a threat. That needs to be taken VERY seriously. At absolute minimum it must be made ABSOLUTELY clear to them that such behavior is not okay, probably illegal, and warrants severe disciplinary action if not immediate termination.

      I get that some political perspectives are extremely hazardous to some of us. I’ve flat-out been told by members of certain political groups that when they get to power I’m going to be put against a wall and shot. You still don’t get to do threaten them. Period.

      1. I have RBF*

        But what about the fact that their rhetoric literally threatens you… ” put against a wall and shot”?? I would not want to be in that person’s presence, because they are a threat to me.

        I would not threaten them. But I don’t want to put myself into a position where I am vulnerable to someone who has essentially threatened me.

        No one calls them on the carpet for their rhetoric. Maybe if people made it clear that they don’t want to deal with politicians who use eliminationist rhetoric they might back off.

  6. Allornone*

    Back when I was still working retail, my state’s then-governor Jeb Bush stopped by my bookstore. There were three of us at the Customer Service desk. All three of us, without a word, promptly ducked and scrambled out of site. I have no regrets.

    I will say, considering the antics of our current governor who is So. Much. Worse, I probably wouldn’t do that to ol’ Jebby today.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      The Bush family should be grateful that the current crop, by comparison, is making them look better than they were

    2. Punch All Nazis*

      When Dubya Bush was President, he did one of those photo ops on a Navy vessel where a woman in my former social circle was serving. Dubya did the whole “walk down the line of Navy soldiers shaking everyone’s hand.” She put her hands behind her back and stared past him till he walked on. Apparently she got chewed out for it, but ultimately got off the hook because she kept pointing out that there was no law or requirement that she had to touch the president or anyone else.

      I actually despise her (she once tried and failed to trick my home address out of a mutual so she could come “beat me up” for saying her best friend was wrong to steal rent money from another mutual–she had a very big obvious crush on Best Friend.) But I 100% cheer her for snubbing a presidential Bush.

    1. Luckier*

      Well, there goes my guess that this referred to Lindsay Graham. Maybe Mitch McConnell?

        1. Uk girl*

          It could be. Nick Griffin is from the UK. I can understand someone not wanting to meet someone, although in a more senior role they would have no choice. Its refusing to do the work associated with the visit that is taking it too far for me. OP is understanding about the fact that they often are dealing with well educated people who are still learning work place norms. If the intern wants to stay in this line of work they need to come to terms with their strong views. If the politician is interested in the museum then you want them onside because it can help with funding and the ability for the museum to function. When part of an institution, you must put the institution when acting on their behalf.

      1. Sunshine*

        It seems (based on spelling) that they aren’t in the US… Hard to say! And based on Allison’s previous requests to keep politics out of this particular comment section, probably not relevant.

      2. Scooter*

        Like the other commenter said, I believe the LW may be British. It’s hard to tell exactly who it may be as ‘family values politics’ isn’t as popular over here, but Boris Johnson would be my first guess. (Conservative, complex private life, potentially interested in museums). The original letter would have been before he became PM.

        1. londonedit*

          I wouldn’t have said Boris because he’s not known for being hugely hard-line right-wing – I’d guess someone like Farage or Rees-Mogg.

          1. Media Monkey*

            hmm. but someone who upgrades his wife to a younger model regularly? that;s not farage. the less i know about Rees-Mogg’s love life the better so i’m not going to google!

    2. Well...*

      Interesting, the commentariat the first time around seemed more sympathetic to the intern than this time (I just read the update and I’m inferring from LW’s reluctant defense of the guy, I didn’t dig through the comments). I think it’s funny because I too, back in 2018, would have been more sympathetic. Is it just that we all got older? Or maybe we’re being internet-responsible and reading the update before commenting? Have we all gotten more peaceful and happy with our institutions since we were during year 2 of a certain presidential administration? Or maybe we’re burned out by extreme rhetoric and just tired? I’m in the too old and tired camp lol.

      1. MarsJenkar*

        I think that a certain event in early 2021, and the general reaction from the right wing in response, has exhausted most of the remaining goodwill that people still had for them before then.

        1. Well...*

          That is a stretch! I doubt this intern has anything meaningful in common with that crowd, except for a willingness to do violence, which she shares with most countries’ governments, armies, kids getting in fights in school, the list goes on.

          1. londonedit*

            I also think that kind of ‘God I’d love to punch him in the face’ hyperbole is a very British way of speaking. I highly doubt the intern meant it literally – obviously it’s not a great thing to say, but absent any other context it wouldn’t be seen here as literally threatening violence.

          2. MarsJenkar*

            I was not implying anything about the intern.

            The question was why people in this forum were more sympathetic to the intern this time around. The post above was my guess why–that particular event, and a good deal of what’s happened since, has seriously eroded many people’s goodwill toward politicians on the right in general (with very limited exceptions).

            It may be a wrong guess, but I believe it is a likely factor.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I think the update stating that he was not a Nazi or somebody who faced accusations related to the MeToo situation, but just a general hypocrite accused of nepotism and cronyism and espousing family values for others while not adhering to them himself also played a part. I think people might have responded to the original post assuming he was one of those who are openly racist or homophobic and actively endangering people. The update makes it seem like he’s on a level of objectionable that it is more reasonable to expect people to tolerate as part of their job.

  7. Sue Wilson*

    I actually think what you said about museum ethics is what you should tell her. And further I think you both should think about what exactly that means in practical terms, with every type of person who may be given privileged treatment. This is not to say to go one way or another, there are plenty of contexts in which dealing with people who you opposed philosophically, morally, ethically or otherwise does not excuse refusing to do your job. And I completely agree with Alison that the intern is opposing this unprofessionally, and I would further say that this is trivializing her stance. I genuinely believe that this is actually a great learning opportunity for the intern, because having ethics means understanding the consequences of those ethics.

    I also think you should understand the consequences of your ethics, so that you can explain your thinking to your intern. I will assume that you’ve already weighed the optics v. the greater community you serve v. how you view privileges granted to public officials.

    That said, I think Alison is missing the fact that this is a private tour of the exhibition and again, this is a privilege that they are extending this politician.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      From reading the update it sounds like this is a museum that will do a private tour for anybody where security concerns would make it difficult for John/Jane Q Public to normally and fully also experience the exhibition. And honestly – I think that is an absolutely fair concern for a museum (especially a publicly funded one) to take into account when making a decision.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        And this popped into my mind later – but it’s not just security concern for people but also for the items in the exhibit if somebody who doesn’t like “Person” tries to injure them and instead damages the exhibit. Then the impact is even larger, and the press could be even worse.

  8. OrigCassandra*

    Yeah, I feel for this intern, as someone whose work unit got forcibly rolled into a larger work unit that I have some differences with… and that is doing mega-fundraising, including from sources I find pretty repellent. (Not, thankfully, on a Jeffrey Epstein level as yet.)

    I quietly avoid fundraising and other events that bother me, but when told I have to pitch in, I put on my grown-person undergarments and my best behavior and go. I have definitely done what Tinkerbell suggests with respect to visual signifiers.

  9. Robin*

    Yeah, she can’t threaten violence towards this guy, however hyperbolic it may be. This isn’t the internet; people say things they would do all the time on it that wouldn’t ever work in real life. (Heck, people do it here all the time!) You need to have a conversation about a) work expectations and b) how to manage dealing with people you find genuinely distasteful at work. Which, tbh, is a fantastic thing for an intern to learn, even if their ultimate career path isn’t public facing.

  10. Safely Retired*

    “We’re not in the business of deciding who can and who can’t tour our exhibits…”. I suggest that there is a difference between deciding who can and can’t tour an exhibit and “give a private tour… to a prominent and controversial political figure.” A private tour acknowledges that this is someone “special”; treating a reprehensible person as someone more worthy than others is questionable. At most they deserve the respectful treatment one would give any other human being, no more.

    1. Robin*

      I’m not in the museum business, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve always thought that private tours are less about the special status of a figure and more about the amount of security nightmare their presence would entail when interacting with the public? It probably is a mixture of both, but to me private tours are more for security and public safety reasons rather than status.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, and the OP confirmed that (it was for security reasons and minimizing disruption to other visitors, not VIP treatment) in their update.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreeing very much here. If doing a private tour for a guest where security considerations makes it possible for the rest of the public to go through normally – then do a private tour. It’s not always about optics for the “Person” – sometimes it’s about how can you have the least impact on everybody else.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sorry – that should read “where security considerations makes it IMPOSSIBLE for the rest”

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I said this upthread, but this kind of private tour (which I know from experience and OP confirms in the update) isn’t about deciding a guest is worthy or special. It’s about acknowledging a high profile presence is a security risk and a disruption, and heading that off to keep everyone safe and comfortable.

      It may still feel like a perk, but the alternatives are not good.

    3. Safely Retired*

      I can also imagine that the “private tour” might not be so private as the word might suggest. When some figures tour an exhibit they are accompanied by reporters and it appears on the nightly news. Which may well be the real point of the tour in the first place. A news report that focus on the attendee, the exhibit being no more than a backdrop. Being an active participant in such an event could easily cross someone’s line.
      There is also the question of whether the attendee is there to actually learn anything, as opposed to already having made their mind up about it all.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “There is also the question of whether the attendee is there to actually learn anything, as opposed to already having made their mind up about it all.”

        Except in very extreme cases, museums really aren’t in the business of deciding who is and isn’t worthy of an education. That’s against their central missions.

      2. Willow*

        The OP said in the update that there were no
        media and the tour was not publicly known.

    4. Observer*

      private tour acknowledges that this is someone “special”; treating a reprehensible person as someone more worthy than others is questionable. At most they deserve the respectful treatment one would give any other human being, no more.

      Even without the update this actually not an accurate reflection of reality. And the OP explicitly explained the issue in their update.

      They give private tours not as a favor to the person getting the tour but because this is the only way to avoid excessive disruption to all other patrons. Not judgement of “worthiness” implied at all.

    5. Wintermute*

      They went over this in the original post, the LW and many others who had field experience and said it really wasn’t a special treat and was more of a matter of logistics and avoiding disruption to patrons. Having a VIP, especially a sitting politician in the building is exhausting if you’re trying to coordinate with the public. First the public themselves are easily distracted and the politician could draw a crowd of them. Plus, you may need to do things like close balcony areas that might overlook where they are, stop people from working on things, you may need to allow their security access to areas not normally accessible, and so on.

      I recall one acquaintance who played a trumpet, and at one point found himself for some holiday (christmas, maybe?) on a trumpeter’s platform WAY up sticking out of the ceiling of the dome of the Wisconsin state capitol (which is a replica of the US capitol) sharing a narrow little balcony a few hundred feet in the air with a sniper who was providing security for the event.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. We’ve had 2 MPs murdered at constituency surgeries in the past 7 years (neither of whom were particularly controversial figures and both being comparatively well liked) in unprovoked attacks. People seem to be increasingly politically intemperate. So I can well believe that there would be security reasons for everyone why it might be better to have a private tour, safer and less disruptive for everyone. Especially if this is someone with more of a public profile who might be recognised.

        1. GythaOgden*

          We had a VIP visit our site in her capacity as a local MP. I was a fan of hers so there wasn’t the issue with hostility, but because of her former role, Special Branch were all over us the morning of her visit and we had to get maintenance out to fix a door that had a dodgy electronic lock within an hour.

          The public figure may be someone you dislike or disagree vehemently with, but they’re a human being and need to be protected because they have a reason to be cagey about security. They could well be someone someone else agrees with; it’s not up to you to decide who gets the security and who doesn’t if there may be someone lurking who wants to do them actual harm. You don’t really get to pick and choose these things based on agreement or disagreement.

          1. Observer*

            And even if you decide that they do not “deserve” to not get murdered at your site, people inevitably get caught in the cross-fire (sometime literally).

            The idea that you would knowingly expose your constituency / the public to that risk because you don’t like someone (even someone abhorrent) is every bit as abhorrent.

          2. Fishsticks*

            Well, in a situation where the intern isn’t saying “they can’t come here” but “I will not be a part of their visit”, it isn’t really the same as blocking the visit. I think the intern should be able to say they don’t want to be a part of it. I also understand that the OP/LW may feel less confident in that intern moving forward. That’s just… sometimes that’s just a price you pay for drawing a line in the sand, and I don’t hold the LW to any fault for feeling like, perhaps, the intern is less reliable than they thought originally. But I also believe the intern is within their rights to step back and allow someone else to gain that experience.

    6. coffee*

      This seems like a good thread to share this – the reason that Australia has a National Portrait Gallery is that in 1997 our (then) Prime Minister, John Howard, was in America touring the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. when an Australian tourist came up to him and was basically like “Hey wouldn’t it be great if Australia had one of these”. Howard came back home and soon after established the Portrait Gallery.

  11. RagingADHD*

    I can’t imagine someone threatening to physically attack a patron — or indeed, anyone on the premises — and staying employed at the organization, unless it was extremely clear that it was intended as a joke (and even then, it merits a serious conversation). People who threaten violence should always be taken seriously, as too many recent tragedies attest.

    Would this comment be allowed to pass with a mere warning if the LW agreed with the politician and found the intern’s personal politics odious?

    How is the LW going to justify keeping this intern on if they don’t announce their intentions next time, and there is an actual incident of workplace violence? There are very few things that merit a true zero-tolerance policy, but I believe threats of physical violence are one of them.

    1. Willow*

      I think an obviously hyperbolic threat of punching, which this was, deserves a serious conversation but it’s a stretch to suggest the intern would actually commit violence. Her whole point was that she didn’t even want to be in this person’s presence. If she actually intended to attack him it would make more sense to try to get near him. Also, the UK where this apparently happened has its share of violence but not to the degree we are used to in the US.

      1. RagingADHD*

        It was not at all obvious in the letter, and the update was not linked until after I posted my comment.

        If you’re referring to the phrase in the update, where the intern apparently said, “I hate that guy so much. If you forced me to have anything to do with him I would keep punching him and punching him and punching him until he fell over on his stupid smug face.”

        I would assert that this is beyond hyperbolic to the point that she sounds like she has a serious lack of impulse control, even to say such a thing at work. Rather than taking it lightly, to hear someone rant like that would incline me to take it more seriously. I’m glad it all worked out fine in the end, but in the same position this would raise far more red flags for me than it apparently did for the LW.

        Not that the intern was planning an attack on this individual. But that she can’t be trusted in general.

        1. Buffy Rosenberg*

          It does sound extremely intense. I personally would be inclined to opt for a serious talk rather than instant firing, especially if this isn’t typical behaviour from the intern. But I do think firing wouldn’t be entirely out of line, either.

    2. sofar*

      My job once put me in the same room as a Fox News pundit who is vile. I work for a really progressive workplace and I made tons of jokes about how I’d be within “striking distance” and that I was going to deserve so much credit for refraining. But I wasn’t an intern, had been with my company for years and everyone was sharing their disdain for the guy.

      So it’s possible this is a case where the intern is NOT literally planning an attack, but more a poorly placed joke.

      1. Buffy Rosenberg*

        Part of what the intern needs to learn about this type of comment is simply: be 100% certain you know your audience, and if in doubt, don’t say it!

  12. doozy*

    Though normally I’d side 100% with Alison, in today’s political climate I have to wonder just how bad this particular situation was. If the intern was a person of color and the politician had overtly or even subtly been racist and/or supported groups who are openly racist, is the advice the same? With so many issues nowadays going beyond basic politics and instead attacking people on basic respect or tolerance issues, I’m less in support of the “it’s a job, keep your political views private while on the job.” It’s hard to be professional while interacting with someone who you suspect may not view you as fully human.

    1. Jazzypants*

      As a trans person I had a similar thought. I COULD NOT be at an event with a man perpetuating an active genocide against my community.

    2. Well...*

      Yes, politics can never be separated out from life (and if it could, be that in itself would be a failed political system). And it’s a false equivalence to say professionalism means treating all political persuasions the same, as some are antithetical to some people’s mere existence, the bare minimum we need to be humans at work. I appreciate this nuance being pointed out here.

    3. Curious*

      I had and have little sympathy for Kim Davis, the county clerk who for religious reasons refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I have little sympathy for pharmacists who, for religious reasons, refuse to dispense birth control medication. If you are unwilling to perform the responsibilities of the job, then resign and find another job that you are willing to do.

      I’m afraid that I see the same principle operating here.

      1. Buffy Rosenberg*

        Curious, the main difference is that the intern isn’t denying a core service to someone based on *who they are*, or because of disapproval of a health service they need. She’s saying she doesn’t want to support a museum visit because his *views and actions from a position of power are harmful*.

        I don’t agree with the intern’s stance (or way of going about it) at all, but these situations aren’t the same.

        1. Curious*

          And they would say that you are asking them to violate their core religious beliefs. I may disagree–strongly — with those beliefs, but this isn’t simply asking someone to do something that they disapprove of. From that perspective, the situations are the same — and, I say, do your job or find a different one.

  13. Libby*

    I can see both sides. The intern does have a professional responsibility to do her job. But I’m imagining what I’d do in her shoes. I’m trans and if I had to be a tour guide to one of these politicians who are trying to legislate my existence into oblivion, I’d be pretty firmly on the side of telling that politician where they can shove it. That being said, the comments about attacking the politician is overboard.

    1. Czhorat*

      I’m cis and I wouldn’t want to be in the presence of a politician who want to legislate your existence into oblivion either; there are some places where politics interweave too deeply with morality to be able to just get along. That’s very difficult if your job means you have to accommodate these people. And, though I know it isn’t the way the world works, I feel that some of them *do* deserve a punch in the face.

      I wish there were an easy answer. From the update, it seems as if this ended as reasonably as could be, with the intern getting to bow out and having a bit of an uncomfortable chat – and perhaps learning a lesson – about workplace norms.

    2. SituationSoap*

      I felt like Allison’s response was actually pretty tone deaf for 2023. People like those who are looking to legislate trans people out of existence specifically rely on the concepts of norms and professional courtesies to normalize their behavior.

      I’ve tried to write this response a few different times, and I know that the goal here isn’t to get into political invective. So instead, I’ll ask a question, both to Allison and to the LW:

      If a politician were to regularly make political statements which would get them fired at your place of work, or which if they were to walk in the front door screaming it would get them kicked out, why would you expect any employees to welcome them and show them special treatment? Why would you expect them to do anything but what they already do to employees who mistreat your coworkers?

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        The letter in question is an Inc Reprint – the letter itself (and much of Alison’s response) originally ran in 2018. Much has changed in four and a half years.

      2. Czhorat*

        I’m wondering if Allison would answer the same way today; on some issues – particularly the intersection of political beliefs and work – her stances have shifted a bit over the years.

      3. Critical Rolls*

        I’m not arguing for engaging bad actors in good faith, or for the sort of burdensome outreach that is always asked of oppressed people toward their oppressors. But as long as politicians behave themselves, letting them be exposed to culturally expansive institutions on a private tour whose purpose is simply to manage security and minimize impact (as opposed to a photo op) is not a bad thing. I’d hope the people who feel best equipped to deal with those folks are permitted to do so and let others step away. It’s important to understand that public institutions are not immune at all to the power politicians wield, so telling them “no” is not straightforward. It’s a matter of which does the least damage: cultural exposure for the politician, or painting a target on the institution for “politically motivated exclusion”?

    3. Artemesia*

      Are you good with a public institution denying you service because you are trans? I agree with you that the politician is probably a slime ball, but public services need to be provided for all. Yes your boss should be able to let you opt out on this one IF there is that option. But in a professional role you don’t have the luxury of denying service based on politics even politics as awful as these.

      1. Czhorat*

        Are you really meaning to imply denial of service to a trans person is morally equivalent to denying service to an anti-trans politician?

        That’s how your comment seems to read to me, and it’s not a position with which I can agree.

      2. Come On*

        This is the middle-ground fallacy. Denying someone service because they are dehumanizing other people is not the same thing as denying someone service because they are trans. There is no middle-ground of decency here because one side (obviously the dehumanizing other people) is abhorrent and antisocial.

        I’m not arguing here that people with certain views should be kept from public spaces, more pointing out that you can’t equate these two “sides”. All views are not valid in this situation.

        Also, Libby was not saying that those people should be denied services, merely that they should not be made to feel uncomfortable by accommodating those people.

      3. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

        I don’t think this is totally valid currently. Some politician you don’t agree with on tax policies is one thing, but there have been over 400 anti-trans bills proposed. There are politicians actively taking away rights, healthcare, and protections from trans people as their major platform – basically trying to legislate them out of existence. Upholding professionalism and politeness and neutrality in these situations only serves those politicians as they spew hate and pass law that get people killed.

      4. Irish Teacher*

        I think there is a difference between politics and identity though. I don’t think denying somebody a service based on their politics and denying somebody a service based on their identity is the same thing. I think it is worse to deny somebody a service based on who they are (their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, etc) than to deny them based on their views.

      5. Appletini*

        Trans people existing is not in any way ethically comparable to verbally, legally, and physically attacking trans people.

  14. Bird Lady*

    First, a conversation is absolutely in order about threatening violence. Beyond being inappropriate for the workplace, it feels like potentially sinking to this controversial figure’s level. There’s enough violent rhetoric out there.

    I used to work for a museum, and that meant interacting with people I agreed with and people I didn’t. I had to work with board members who made inappropriate political jokes, wore political statements to museum events, and interact with politicians that made my skin crawl. And you know what I learned? I could work with any of them. I could find enough common ground with them to make good things happen for my community. Yes, I mentally cursed at them when they acted poorly, I actively worked to get them out of office outside of work, and more than once elevated concerns about behavior to the board chair. But at the end of the day, I’m proud of the programming we delivered for free to at risk teens. And I couldn’t have done it without people I vehemently disagreed with.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep, this is how this world works – and maybe the intern isn’t cut out for it! That’s a good thing to learn from an internship. But in the meantime, threats of violence aren’t going to fly, and I’m glad OP addressed that.

    2. not a hippo*

      There is absolutely no way I could find common ground with someone who is actively working to deny my human rights.

      1. I have RBF*

        Seriously. I’m enby – which counts as trans, and married to another AFAB person. I am personally threatened by anti-trans, anti-homosexual politicians. They scare the crap out of me. I’m glad I live in California, but these kind of nasty people have national power.

        I would not be able to find common ground with someone who wants me dead or “reprogrammed”.

  15. sara*

    Caveat – I’m in Canada. Our politics and government structures are a lot different. I did work at a science museum when our then-Prime Minister was destroying massive research institutions and firing many many scientists…

    But I do think that there’s a difference between these two scenarios:

    1. “The Member of Parliament representing this area” (or the “Congressperson representing this district”) visiting a cultural institution as a more official visit. Maybe they’re there to help draw attention to something, or to open a new gallery, etc.
    2. A person who I find abhorrent (and happens to also be an MP or Congressperson) is visiting but in a less-official capacity.

    In the 1st scenario, it’s moreso the office that’s visiting not the individual. Yes, like Alison says, there are times when that individual who is so abhorrent that they (and therefore I) cannot keep that separation of their personal views vs the views of their office. And there’s definitely a case for making a professional stand against supporting this visit.

    But also, for us, when our MP etc visited, it was also a chance for a news story and greater visibility about the great work we were doing, etc.

    1. Baron*

      Also Canadian, and I’m glad I’m not the only person who can make the distinctions you’ve made. Did you hear about the recent situation where a man with a disability met with the prime minister so the PM could recognize the man’s achievements, and the man has been torn to shreds on Twitter by many who dislike the PM? And it’s, like, guys, he was meeting with “the prime minister”, not with “Justin”.

      The PM you refer to was not my cup of tea, but if his job had brought him into contact with me at my job, I’d have been able to interact respectfully.

      1. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

        There was a bar in PEI where Trudeau visited, and they got absolutely destroyed online. Disgusting behaviour. Of course having the Prime Minister visit is exciting!

        A few years back, I had a friend run for MP. We don’t agree on much politically, but he’s a smart and nice guy and would be a good MP who would represent any community well. The smearing and outright lies online about him were so gross, and he did nothing wrong at all! He didn’t hold extremist views or say bad things or anything like that.

      2. sara*

        Yes, absolutely! If you get a meeting to advocate for your cause, you’re gonna take that meeting – even if (maybe especially) if the person disagrees with you and doesn’t do enough to support that cause.

  16. me just me . . .*

    This is an ideal situation to teach business norms and professionalism. Discriminatory practices hurt everyone and need to be coached out of our new employees/interns.

    1. Gracely*

      Yeah. To me this is akin (not exactly the same, mind you) to a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription because of their beliefs. It’s inappropriate and unprofessional to not do your job when it’s what you’ve signed up to do, and you should recognize what comes with the territory of the field you’re in.

      Plus, with something like a museum tour, it’s an opportunity to show the value of what you do/who you are to someone who might be otherwise closed off.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      This is not a discriminatory practice, it does not target anyone due to their membership in a protected class. She specifically objects to this politician’s actions. I think a discussion is warranted but it’s not because she’s discriminatory.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah, “discrimination hurts everyone” is for when you’re turning people away for their race, their gender, their religion, their national origin. Not if you’re turning someone away for harmful public actions.

        And again, there’s a continuum. If the politician was a literal white supremacist then I’d arrange the protest myself; if they’re just on the wrong side of center for me I might quietly sit out or grit my teeth and deal with them.

        Somewhere in between it’s a hard question, and a personal one.

    3. Well...*

      While this is a very context-free thing to say (as others above have pointed out), I’m more amused by the worldview one must have that allows them to believe that discrimination can be eliminated by simply coaching it out of people. If only.

      1. Me... Just Me (as always)*

        Young people can be coached out of all sorts of things (as can older folks). Dialogue is absolutely essential. Just because someone does something reprehensible doesn’t make them irredeemable. Life has taught me that much. I will treat every person I meet with respect & dignity because of who I am (and because of their innate worth).

    4. Temperance*

      It’s not discrimination to refuse service to someone whose actions, words, and practices are abhorrent. That’s the kind of person you choose to be, and others can react to you accordingly.

  17. Bridget*

    You know, I question why the museum would give this politician a private tour in the first place, if it is among the ilk I suspect. Just because someone holds office doesn’t make them royalty. If they’re a major donor sure, but otherwise? They are welcome to attend like everyone else.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s a logistical and security nightmare for a museum. OP’s update is linked in a comment above, they do a good job explaining this. But also just having worked for a museum and having handled this kind of thing – you’re setting yourself up for a 10x more complicated and terrible situation by letting it play out that way (possibly with a lot of legal liabilities as well).

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      I don’t think the intern was objecting to a private tour in general, just this specific politician

    3. Baron*

      It’s not about treating them like royalty, it’s about security – protecting the organization from protestors, etc., who might cause a scene.

      1. Chirpy*

        Exactly. I once had a very controversial (now ex) governor come to my workplace. His big infamous policy got multiple protests in the range of 65-70,000 or more people at the state Capitol, the “special treatment” he got when he was at my work was entirely to avoid more protests. (I luckily didn’t have any reason to interact with him while he was there, so I just avoided him because I’d been one of the protesters.)

  18. Beboots*

    One thing I’m thinking about a lot when it comes to this particular situation (as opposed to a private business, like retail or a restaurant) is that you are presumably working for the museum because you agree with its overall mandate – that it shares important ideas with the public (about history/nature/science/whatever). If you are giving a private tour to someone you disagree with, you also have an opportunity to shift their mindset, maybe even just a little bit, in a different direction. The public comes to these places to learn, and to build connections. That’s the role of museums. I agree with the ethical argument discussed above – shutting out people who the employees disagree with may be a wrong direction. Of course, there are always lines, as stated above, but it’s also important to think about what good could come out of a meeting. I like to think that some people can change, if exposed to different context than many of our echo-chambers.

  19. Czhorat*

    I think everyone chastising the intern for “threatening violence” is taking what is clearly meant as figurative speech far too literally. There *is* a point that she let her friendly relationship with her boss lead to relaxing too much and overstepping professional norms; that’s something the letter writer said was discussed with the intern at a later time.

    I do agree that there is a line to be drawn as to whom one is willing to work with, and that everyone draws that line at a slightly different place. If the workplace can accommodate it I think it one hundred percent appropriate to let the intern – or any employee – bow out of an assignment with which they have a moral issue.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It depends a little on the context and setting to me. When you work for a public institution, you have to think about who could overhear you, and where that information could go. If you’re discussing someone with a security detail, that could get extra hairy.

      And besides that, the point of an internship is to learn professional behaviors. I would find it irresponsible if the OP didn’t address the professionalism of the comment.

      1. Czhorat*

        To be clear, I agree that the comment was unprofessional. In the update we learn that the manager coached the employee on that.

        I just see a distinction between “you should not say this in a professional setting” and “you are literally threatening to attack someone”.

    2. Come On*

      I agree. Everyone is fixated on the “threat of violence” but I read it more as a hyperbolic statement made to a boss who she maybe felt too comfortable with. This was also affirmed in the update, so I’m not sure why people are harping on it so much.

      I believe that if the intern was uncomfortable, she should have no problem being able to bow out.

      1. Dinwar*

        “This was also affirmed in the update, so I’m not sure why people are harping on it so much.”

        About twice a year my wife–a high school teacher–has to go into lockdown because a student brings a gun to school with the intent to murder at least one person, probably a lot more (because the way the law reads, there’s no difference in punishment for shooting one or fifty people). Twice a year, or more, I get the text reading “We’re in lockdown, I love you”. And usually they find that the person had made many comments about this sort of thing, usually taken as “hyperbolic statement made to someone who she maybe felt too comfortable with”.

        Answer your question?

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. We’ve had airports shut due to bomb threats a couple of times and the person sending them often says it was a joke or hyperbole. The authorities still have to take action. You can’t always know whether a threat or a comment is made seriously or in jest.

        2. Lucky Meas*

          Come on. There is a difference between someone threatening to kill students with a gun and saying “if I was near this right-wing politician I would punch them in the face.”

          There is an epidemic of people actually killing students with guns. There is not an epidemic of people punching right-wing politicians in the face, unfortunately.

          1. Dinwar*

            “Come on. There is a difference between someone threatening to kill students with a gun and saying “if I was near this right-wing politician I would punch them in the face.” ”

            First, no there isn’t. Uncontrolled violent impulses tend to expand. The person who is willing to punch someone in the face–in public, at work–will eventually become the person willing to shoot a rally. The logic is identical: “I don’t like what you’re saying, so I get to hurt you.” The only difference is that people assume–wrongly–that unarmed violence is a lesser form of violence than

            Second, unless you personally are willing to be punched in the face by anyone who happens to disagree with your politics–and to grant that people punching your children in the face because of their politics, and your spouse–we’re back at mere tribalism. Violence is okay because it’s against Those People. This is how republics disintegrate. That’s not speculative; the Greeks saw this process happen often enough to develop a standard model for how these things occur. This is a step about halfway down the path.

            Think about where this leads. People punch the politicians you don’t like. We have an epidemic of gun violence. Do you seriously think the people you’re punching in the face are going to say “Oh, well, fair enough, guess I was wrong”? Humans don’t work like that. They will rally the troops, grab their guns, and KILL YOU, either next time you try to punch them (in which case they would be in the right–everyone has the right to self-defense) or at your next political rally. And no, it doesn’t matter which side of the political divide you or they are on; the important thing is that YOU decided that violence was an acceptable way to deal with political differences. This leads to a death spiral of violence and bloodshed. See any city experiencing gang warfare if you doubt this.

            This is precisely the reason why we have police and courts–a theoretically neutral third party to ensure that violence is used appropriately (I am not niave enough to believe that violence is never the answer), in as close to an objective way as possible. We can debate whether they do so or not–I’m on the “Not” side when it comes to most police, but am more generous with courts–but that’s the theory. And the reason is to ensure that this death-spiral doesn’t occur.

            1. Lucky Meas*

              Unarmed violence is absolutely a lesser form of armed violence. Mountains are not molehills.

              It is really hilarious that you talk about the importance of pacifism and the rule of law, and then talk about the police and courts! Yes in theory they are there to ensure that state-enacted violence is used appropriately. But you can’t compare the “perfect” theoretical courts (which hand out the death penalty, even in theory!) and the “savage” real-life streets. This is a very pro-status-quo lawful neutral stance that most people do not agree with.

              The goal of punching right wing politicians is not to get them to apologize. They already are rallying the troops to kill me with guns. I guess by your logic I asked for it!

      2. Observer*

        I don’t think it makes it any better. But it’s good that the OP counseled her on that. Because that’s a big problem as well, of a different sort.

    3. Wintermute*

      the problem is that the secret service and police would not necessarily agree about what’s hyperbole and you have to be careful what gets out there. The last thing you need is it becoming a big deal that “intern at randomville museum of science and teapottery accused of threatening politician”

      1. Observer*

        Given how often “hyperbolic comments” like this turn out to not be just hyperbole, the secret service really has not choice but to take public comments of this sort seriously.

    4. Observer*

      think everyone chastising the intern for “threatening violence” is taking what is clearly meant as figurative speech far too literally.

      Nope. As most people have pointed out, these kinds of “clearly hyperbolic” statements are not always hyperbolic. And even if they are, they do NOT belong at work.

      everyone draws that line at a slightly different place

      Which is fine. Had the intern said “If I am required to do the tour, I will have to resign” that would be something I could respect. Making jokes about punching him into unconsciousness and sloughing off her (back end) work onto others so she can feel good about herself are a very different thing.

  20. Rivikah*

    My first question here is: is this intern being paid?

    Lots of people weigh their paycheque against the distasteful tasks their job requires them to do. The intern in this case should be made aware that this is what she’s doing, but if the paycheque is 0 dollars, no one should be surprised if she chooses her principles.

  21. Jo-El (Kryptonian)*

    Part of being an adult in an adult working world is having to deal with people you disagree with and probably dislike. If you can’t set it aside and do your job, you don’t need to be there.

    1. Well...*

      Yes, but I think we can all agree that we aren’t required to work with people who behave at the extremes of the spectrum (for example, you can decide you don’t want to work with an intern who threatens violence against other people). It seems like this visitor isn’t particularly extreme though.

      1. Jo-El (Kryptonian)*

        In my life i’ve had to work/interact with A LOT of people I would just as soon hogtie and throw in a river. But any job that is customer facing is going to mean dealing with an extreme person (on either end).
        1. Nothing says you have to engage in small talk or be friendly, just do the job in a clinical way and move on.
        2. If you have to be pleasant, I always focused on the 1 thing we had in common and not the 99 I really disagreed with.

        Dealing with people you despise is an essential life skill.

      2. Wintermute*

        That simply isn’t true. Some professions are more liable to have to do it than others, some it’s very well known: lawyers, psychiatric inpatient workers, any kind of medical care, police, emergency services– there’s some jobs where people will come in and they’re straight-up human monsters and you have to treat them respectfully and with dignity.

        Now lawyers are prepared for this, especially if they are before the bar in a jurisdiction where they may be assigned to be a public defender at any time, nurses and doctors are taught about the ethics of this when they are trained. A museum docent isn’t. But there’s still going to be times where you have to be respectful and professional to someone who you abhor.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I’ll be honest, all the museum docents I’ve worked with have been trained on this too. There’s definitely not an oath of ethics like with a doctor, but most public facing roles know that this is the kind of thing they’ll have to deal with. All the more so if you’re handling information that may be controversial or bring forth strong opinions.

          At the risk of outing myself, I live in a major American Revolution city and some of the tourists get really unruly with docents and tour guides. They’re trained to deal with people of all opinions, all kinds of backlash, and how to stay composed and respond professionally.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. I worked in a stately home as a tour guide as a student and one of the things that was made absolutely clear was that we had to treat everyone the same, make everyone welcome and be professional regardless of what people said or how they reacted (short of personal abuse). This included a couple of people I really didn’t like (including a former teacher who was pretty horrible to me) but I still had to be my professional self throughout.

        2. Well...*

          Good points! I was wrong. I was thinking more about coworkers, but the examples you bring up are far more relevant to LW

    2. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

      It’s a tough question with a huge range of possibilities. We’ve had letters here (adopting a dog vs shelter, “making fun” of King Charles III) where most people agreed that an unreasonable line was being drawn, but the person making the complaint had strong convictions there. We don’t know who this politician is or what they did – maybe they were seriously victimizing a community, and the intern couldn’t stand for that. Maybe it’s some other problem, one that many would consider frivolous, but it’s deeply important to the intern for whatever reason. Hard to say. Where’s the line? Can we draw it in situation X, while not in situation Y? Is the same line going to be drawn in the next museum over? If another intern was okay with leading the tour, are they doing something bad?

      I’ve been mulling this over a lot recently, because I’m looking for work and have wondered whether I should take jobs I ethically conflict with, and which ethical issues I can “let slide”. It’s tough.

      1. Jo-El (Kryptonian)*

        I getcha. I was principled when i was younger and I think it hurt me a lot job-wise. It took me a long time to learn how to find that one thing I and the other person had in common that allowed me to interact with people I truly despised. The older I get the more I realize no one is 100% all good or all bad but are varying degrees of both good and bad.

        And there’s a big difference between a one-night interaction with someone you hate vs. having to be around them daily. If you can’t set aside personal feelings for a few hours a person has no business interacting with the public.

        1. Buffy Rosenberg*

          Sometimes the things you disagree on are extremely important, though.

          Even life and death for some people.

          I think it’s been clarified that this wasn’t a neo-Nazi or anything but nowadays some politicians labelled ‘moderate’ push policies through which remove entire groups of people’s rights, or even their very humanity.

          For some people, growing up is about realising the hard realities of certain political positions, and realising you have to make tough choices, like risking a job or being judged as immature, rather than avoiding conflict above all else.

          Conflict avoidance and getting along isn’t always the highest possible good, and nor is it inherently morally superior.

          None of this is to defend the intern’s choices. I read your comment as a more general one, though, and it really seems to minimise the severity of what some political “disagreements” can be about.

        2. Appletini*

          ” no one is 100% all good or all bad but are varying degrees of both good and bad.”

          People always say this in response to, say, those who are upset about watching our rights get legislated away and our existences legislated against. As far as I can tell no one ever says this to the people who write and pass such legislation and those who vocally support such legislation.

  22. Danish*

    God I feel for this intern tho. Yes, professionalism, but part of what galls me so much about many our current FOR EXAMPLE republican senators is that they are absolutely VILE to so many people, but then still act like they’re just being very normal.

    I wouldn’t spit on DeSantis if he were on fire and I have a hard time imagining i could stomach treating him as a Valued Guest if he showed up at my workplace, even if it were a public space like a museum.

    1. Fish*

      I thought of DeSantis too when reading this thread.

      I agree with @Jo-el above that a one-time interaction with someone you despise, is different from having to be around them daily. A past employer hired someone coming from a top-level position in say, the first DeSantis administration. If they had approached me about being that person’s admin, I would have accepted a negative mark for refusing on my performance record.

  23. Someone Online*

    Part of my job involves periodically interacting with a politician who has recently made a vote that I personally believe will do a lot of real, actual harm to real people in my community. And it’s hard. It is so, so hard. But I plan to demonstrate professionalism and also my values of caring for the wellbeing of my community in my interactions with this person. Maybe I can help soften their views, even if we never explicitly talk about it. Maybe I can establish trust, so that when I have an opportunity I can make a difference. Obviously that won’t happen with a one-time tour, but I would encourage the intern to think about how to work with people they fundamentally disagree with because it is always going to come up.

    1. Appletini*

      That sounds so supremely difficult. I hope you can help soften their views, but in my personal and professional experience, I would be lying if I told you it was likely. People make loopholes and exceptions for all their horrible beliefs, all the time. I hope you can get through this with your ethics and psyche intact.

  24. Troutwaxer*

    Usually I’m a little disappointed to see a reprint, but this is so very topical that I’m happy to see it!

    1. Wintermute*

      Agreed! I think this one is an evergreen topic that is more relevant now than when it was published originally!

  25. Neddy Seagoon*

    Kids these days! Etc, etc, etc.

    More seriously, now I’ve gotten that out of my system.

    I used to work as a librarian. It was drummed into me, at the time, that we served the public and that meant ALL the public. We couldn’t turn away anyone who wanted to use our services unless we had a very strong case and even then it was chancy. This served a very practical purpose. If we made a habit of denying our services – computers, meeting rooms, etc – to anyone based on their politics, it turned them into enemies and that tended to hit us in the funding. The last thing we wanted was to deny Prospective Candidate use of our facilities and then discover he actually won and was now cutting our funding, on the grounds we no longer served the entire community.

    And he would have a point.

    You could have whatever views you liked, politically speaking. You weren’t allowed to act on them. Sometimes, that meant holding your nose – metaphorically speaking – when people you didn’t like asked to use the services. We had to be neutral.

    It’s also true that the words ‘Nazi,’ ‘Fascist,’ ‘Communist,’ etc get thrown about a lot these days and, in my experience, they are both hyperbolic and dangerous.

    To be honest, I would fire her. She doesn’t have the right mindset to work in any public service and the fact she made threats of violence would create a vast liability problem, if she actually went ahead and did it. (She would also provide proof, for those inclined to think that way, that people with her politics are both irrational and dangerous. There’s quite enough of that already too.) I understand the importance of venting, and there are plenty of patrons I might complain about when I got home, but this is beyond the pale.

    She’s a grown adult. She needs a sharp lesson before she lands herself in real trouble.

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      I agree 100 percent. Working in public service means serving the public, whoever they may be, within the realm of your job and the law. It doesn’t mean imposing your political views upon members of the public, no matter how much you may disagree with their views, or withholding your services due to your disagreement.

      And for everyone here who thinks, well, some people are just beyond the pale in their opposition to x and their opposition is legitimately harmful, I ask you: what if tomorrow those people seek to deny you access to a government service based on your politics and their view that your position is legitimately harmful? Where are you, a supporter of viewpoint discrimination, then?

      Yes, it’s hard to live in a pluralist society where people have the right to think and believe as they wish. This inevitably means living alongside — and, in public service, serving — people we disagree with, sometimes vehemently. But that’s also part of the social contract.

      I’m about as lefty as they come, with this caveat: I don’t believe in withholding public services to people based on their views. Sure, go ahead and criticize the views you abhor all you want on your own time, but please leave that at home when you work in public service.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        “And for everyone here who thinks, well, some people are just beyond the pale in their opposition to x and their opposition is legitimately harmful, I ask you: what if tomorrow those people seek to deny you access to a government service based on your politics and their view that your position is legitimately harmful? Where are you, a supporter of viewpoint discrimination, then?”

        This presupposes that there is no such thing as objective threat or harm, and it’s all just opinion and relativism. I’m not saying that every disagreement meets this criteria, but some do, and it’s not right to hand-wave those as some kind of existential debate about the paradox of tolerance.

        With that said, the line for public institutions has to be pretty far on the extreme end of things for straight up denying access.

      2. Lucky Meas*

        Have you heard of the paradox of tolerance though? When one is intolerant, we must not tolerate it, etc.

        I would hope that libraries don’t host KKK meetings because it would be “viewpoint discrimination” to refuse. There is a line where some things are unacceptable in our society, even for public services.

        1. MourningStar*

          It is an interesting argument and it begs the question – how do we change minds? I did my master’s thesis on Ally Develoment – how do you take indifferent or even anti- people and make them into supporters for marginalized communities.

          The ugly truth behind it is that it takes members of the majority and marginalized communities who are willing to go among the other side because the only thing that works is exposure that challengs the established paradigms people have built. While I would never advocate for KKK meetings at the local library (or anywhere, thank you very much), the fact is that we ensure that access is allowed to all, it creates space for ALL to mix. Sometimes when you see that others live a normal life just like you, it can move the needle in your brain just a bit. And sometimes bit by bit is enough.

          1. Lucky Meas*

            I think the big issue here is prioritizing “changing minds” over the safety of the marginalized. Some of us are tired of having to sympathize with the people who are oppressing us, of having to make space for their hurtful ideas, of having to listen to “both sides” as if there is a middle ground between oppression and respect.

            Bit by bit is not enough.

    2. Czhorat*

      This is an exceedingly over-the-top, inflexible, and unreasonable take. I’m glad the OP has more wisdom than you.

      Part of an internship is learning, and part of that is learning professional norms.

      That aside, there ARE many in mainstream politics today with positions that are directly and objectively harmful to segments of the population. People who espouse those views do *not* deserve the same levels of respect and treatment that the rest of the population does.

      Again, edge cases are easy. If the person was a literal Nazi I hope even you would relax your “we’re here for everyone” stance. If the only difference is that they wanted to decrease road-maintenance spending by 2% then I don’t think any reasonable person would want to ostracize them.

      Somewhere in between it’s an interesting – and difficult – question.

      1. Angstrom*

        I was an EMT. Giving people different levels of care because of their politics would have been a huge breach of professional and personal ethics.
        Some of my colleagues had very different political views. Would I want them caring for my family members if they felt free to vary their standards of treatment based on their politics?

        1. Czhorat*

          Let’s pretend that we all realize that there is a difference between giving life-saving care as an EMT and giving a tour of a museum.

          1. Yeah, no*

            The problem is attitudes like yours spread. It starts with being “just fine” in one institution, suddenly it’s policy everywhere.
            If you and people like the intern are unable to accept ALL variations of people in public spaces, then you don’t need to be working in public spaces that serve ALL the public. End of.

          2. Happy meal with extra happy*

            I fully agree with you. I’m an attorney, and I believe that everyone deserves equal access to justice, a proper defense, etc., including the worst of the worst (e.g., Nazis, serial killers, etc.). However, there’s a massive difference between that and feeling comfortable giving a museum tour.

          3. Eldritch Office Worker*

            We can’t pretend that. Where that line is can be very different depending on your sensitivity to this topic. And the slippery slope does exist in this kind of situation, it’s not a fallacy.

        2. Appletini*

          Giving people different levels of care because of their politics would have been a huge breach of professional and personal ethics.

          FWIW EMTs have and do give people different levels of care because of what one could call their politics. For instance, consider the death of Tyra Hunter. From what I have seen in the reading I have done, this happens disproportionately to people of color, LGBTQ people, etc, and is not reciprocated towards people more commonly classed as conservative.

      2. Neddy Seagoon*

        There is a fundamental difference between work norms like “get to work on time,” “don’t walk around with your rear hanging out,” “don’t tell the boss he’s a pointy-haired [long list of insults]” and …

        … Actually threatening physical harm.

        It’s the sort of thing, i feel, that should go without saying.

      3. Dinwar*

        “Part of an internship is learning, and part of that is learning professional norms.”

        The intern threatened someone. That’s not professional norms, that’s basic common decency. It’s also against the law in many cases.

        “People who espouse those views do *not* deserve the same levels of respect and treatment that the rest of the population does.”

        An attack is an attempt to kill. Even if the person doesn’t intend it, death is a highly probable outcome of even unarmed attacks. People DRASTICALLY under-estimate the consequences of such things, thanks in large part to movies and TV shows; the reality is that people die this way every day.

        Are you willing to accept the notion that we can attempt to kill politicians we don’t agree with? More to the point, are you willing to accept that you, personally, should be subject to attacks for beliefs if the other person finds you offensive enough? (Don’t argue “But I hold no offensive beliefs!” To some group, you absolutely do; everyone does.) If not, you agree that this intern’s actions constitute an unacceptable type of behavior at minimum, and possibly criminal behavior; you’re merely making an exception based on political tribalism.

        “If the person was a literal Nazi I hope even you would relax your “we’re here for everyone” stance.”

        It’s happened before. The KKK once joined the Adopt a Highway program. The program allowed the organization to do so, on the grounds that they follow the same rules as everyone else. The KKK failed to clean up the highway within the timeframe demanded, so their signs got taken down–but it was for failure to abide by the terms and conditions, NOT because they were racists.

        Similarly, if a Nazi walked into a library with a library card and checked out a book, it is the librarian’s duty to loan it to them. Sure, run a background check and if he’s got any warrants or other reason for the police to check him out let the police know, and if you can detain them somehow without risk while the cops show up that’s fine. But in one’s capacity as a librarian they would be obliged to lend the book.

        The reason is pretty obvious when you think about it: Eventually the other side wins. If you’re allowed to draw a line on the political spectrum and say “I refuse service to anyone further Right/Left than this” so are they. And you’ll find that YOU are denied service–or kicked out of public buildings–or denied legal counsel–or attacked at work. Someone will decide that your views are an indefensible attack against all that is good and wholesome and will decide to treat you the way you want to treat others.

        1. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

          Similarly, if a Nazi walked into a library with a library card and checked out a book, it is the librarian’s duty to loan it to them. Sure, run a background check and if he’s got any warrants or other reason for the police to check him out let the police know, and if you can detain them somehow without risk while the cops show up that’s fine. But in one’s capacity as a librarian they would be obliged to lend the book.

          And there’s a big difference between checking out a book for someone and giving them a specialized tour or a platform at a library. Of course you don’t stop them from checking out a book, but allowing them to spew hate at the library then makes it an unsafe space for others to be.

          Also, absolutely DO NOT run background checks on people coming into the library in order to contact the police. That’s absolutely against library ethics.

          1. Dinwar*

            “Of course you don’t stop them from checking out a book, but allowing them to spew hate at the library then makes it an unsafe space for others to be.”

            This is exactly why Creationists have told me that I should be shot. I’m spreading hate (yes, they used those words–they believe I believe in evolution because I hate God, and wish others to hate God as much as I do)–and worse, condemning people to eternal damnation! How much less safe can you get?! Are you comfortable refusing to allow paleontologists and biologists to use libraries to give talks on evolution on this premise?

            This presents a logistical problem: How do you determine which group is “spreading hate”? The answer most people de facto go with is “Anyone who agrees with me is simply speaking the truth; anyone who disagrees with me is spreading hate and behaving violently.” Which is tribalism: Green Tribe good, Yellow Tribe bad. The results of that mentality can be explored by opening any history book.

            The reality, though, is that these examples we’re throwing about are so far from the norm as to be nearly irrelevant (I use my experience to demonstrate that it is not a mere hypothetical; otherwise you’d be justified in accusing me of straw-manning your argument). 99.999% of cases are going to be much harder to define. There’s a broad spectrum of people who hold both offensive and admirable beliefs, however defined. Someone has to draw the line between “Safe enough to talk about” and “They don’t deserve a platform”. That person has tremendous power. It’s not something that an intern should be allowed to determine through threats of violence.

            “Also, absolutely DO NOT run background checks on people coming into the library in order to contact the police. That’s absolutely against library ethics.”

            I was unaware. Thank you for the correction. I mean that honestly–I’m glad someone corrected me before someone took what I said and made things worse!

            In my defense, I was considering a situation where background checks are more or less routine. A subcontractor had to get a guy into a facility, and when they looked at his record he had outstanding warrants. They called the police and he was arrested. I’m not entirely certain how many institutions have that capacity, but to play it safe I assume any facility that issues some sort of documentation does it. In my life, it’s proven true more often than false. Probably just my skewed perspective, though.

          2. Observer*

            And there’s a big difference between checking out a book for someone and giving them a specialized tour or a platform at a library.

            Except that no one was giving anyone a “specialized” anything. They were being given the same tour that is given to anyone (not just politicians) who is high profile enough to create a security problem FOR THE OTHER PATRONS.

            The OP’s update pointed out the wide variety of folks who had been given tours of the sort. And in both the original letter and update they made the point that this was a good opportunity NOT because of the face time with the politician, but because it would give them a really good look at some back end operational stuff that they would otherwise not normally see.

            <i.Also, absolutely DO NOT run background checks on people coming into the library in order to contact the police. That’s absolutely against library ethics.

            Yeah. Against library ethics and a good way to run into trouble. Also, if you care about not helping out abhorrent politicians, PLEASE do not encourage the idea that the library should help the police investigate people.

        2. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

          Most librarians… are not able to run background checks, at least in my country. That would be a huge privacy violation, it would be wrong, and the time/resources would be astronomical.

        3. Lucky Meas*

          We must be intolerant of facists and racists SO THAT they don’t win. Why would we treat bigots gently so that they treat us nicely when the pendulum swings they other way? They are already taking away our rights and lives. They’re not going to stop as a favor to moderates who were nice to them.

          We had better be intolerant of the intolerant, in order to create a tolerant society.

        4. Appletini*

          are you willing to accept that you, personally, should be subject to attacks for beliefs if the other person finds you offensive enough

          In the US as it currrently is, I have to accept that I am indeed subject to possible attacks if someone finds me offensive enough, and that people I love are in far more danger of such attacks, not least because many of my fellow citizens would rather defend everyone’s theoretical right to believe whatever they believe than ever push back against those pushing for laws and attitudes which attack certain groups.

          I would link to last year’s Trans Day of Remembrance list of murdered trans people if I were on my computer. And perhaps a few examples of political violence such as the man who cut off a woman’s hand in a coffeehouse because she didn’t vote for Trump. And other such examples.

        5. Appletini*

          are you willing to accept that you, personally, should be subject to attacks for beliefs if the other person finds you offensive enough

          In the US as it currrently is, I have to accept that I am indeed subject to possible attacks if someone finds me offensive enough, and that people I love are in far more danger of such attacks, not least because many of my fellow citizens would rather defend everyone’s theoretical right to believe whatever they believe than ever push back against those pushing for laws and attitudes which attack certain groups.

          I would link to last year’s Trans Day of Remembrance list of murdered trans people if I were on my computer. And perhaps a few examples of political violence such as the man who cut off a woman’s hand in a coffeehouse because he disapproved of how she voted. And so on.

  26. Angstrom*

    Not helping with the logistics made more work for her colleagues.
    If she declined to help with the tour she should have offered to do some alternative tasks to pick up the workload for her colleagues who have to cover for her.
    “I can’t ethically do A, but I can spend extra time on B, C, and D” would be a far more professional response.

  27. Brain the Brian*

    I wonder about the line that employees can draw around sensitive topics when it’s impacted by their own identity rather than simply their political beliefs. For instance, I am LGBTQ, and my company works in several countries where even being openly LGBTQ is illegal and can result in being “disappeared” off the streets. Could I refuse an assigned work trip to those locations on those grounds? It’s never come up (perhaps because my manager has wisely not assigned me any such trips), but I do wonder.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I’m honestly not sure. We’re a “diplomacy-adjacent” company (without diplomatic protections but implementing a lot of programming under contracts from our country’s foreign ministry), and I’ve been sent overseas on just a few hours’ notice at various points in my employment (thankfully, never at least so far to a country with a direct legal threat to my safety). Things are different on a lot of fronts in the post-pandemic world than they were back then, but still — I wonder.

    1. Observer*

      I should hope so!

      But then again, I would hope that no reasonable company would even ask it of you – that would be literally asking you to risk your life for something completely legal.

      In fact this seems SO obvious that I wonder why you are asking this in THIS context. Even without the update, it was pretty clear that no one’s life was on the line.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        It’s a worry that crosses my mind frequently, although never to the point that I would write in about it. I’m not totally sure what possessed me to comment here, except for the “refusing a work assignment for moral reasons” connection. I prefer not to be completely out of the closet at work (although I’m fairly sure my own manager knows anyway), so there’s a chance I would have to frame it in that way rather than about my personal safety.

    2. UKDancer*

      I’ve refused work in Saudi Arabia because I don’t feel I’d be safe there as a feminist atheist and don’t want to abide by the rules imposed on women. I accept they can impose these rules but won’t go somewhere that does. So I think it’s ok if you have a good reason, work for a normally reasonable employer and don’t refuse every assignment you’re offered.

    3. Antigone Funn*

      Could and should refuse, I’d say. No need to stand on principle where your own safety is in question.

      At a former job, one of our primary installation/service technicians was an observant Muslim and we had some installations in Israel. He was simply excepted from having to go there for any reason. Nobody ever argued about it, to my knowledge. Everyone found it pretty sensible!

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Interestingly, we do have observant Muslims on staff who take work trips to locations in Israel — but I think that if any objected, they would be allowed that objection.

      2. Observer*

        You’ve just provided a perfect example of why there are many people who don’t feel so safe around so called “progressive and tolerant” people. Because what this tells me is that your company is reflexively and unthinkingly antisemitic. Not because you accommodated a Muslim employee – that is as it should be! But the idea that “everyone found it pretty sensible” to assume that any Muslim was at significant risk in Israel. It’s just not true, and it’s gross that it was just accepted without any sort of thought.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think that’s why it’s always best to ask people whether they’re willing to go to country x rather than assuming they won’t. Or for people to indicate if they have a problem with a particular country. So I won’t do certain Middle Eastern countries (Saudi Arabia being the only one that I’d declined so far). I’ve had a Taiwanese colleague not want to take a job in China and a Black Rastafarian friend in a different company who has turned down US assignments because he’s concerned about some of the deaths of Black people at the hands of the police.

          The thing is you have to ask people what they’re comfortable with and listen to them as different people have different comfort zones.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            This gets quite tricky, though, when an employee works in an environment where they’re not sure that their refusal would be accepted kindly. My company’s operations are centered on countries that legally and harshly discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, and — quite frankly — I fear that I wouldn’t be able to refuse a trip to one of them on that grounds without management questioning why I’m working at this company at all.

            An example: I was on a list of people who might have needed to visit one of their embassies in the city where I work to handle some company business, and I almost turned that down — but someone else volunteered to go across town first. What would I have done if I’d been asked directly, knowing that I really wouldn’t have wanted to step foot on what’s legally that country’s territory but also knowing that I don’t really want to formally come out at work or put my career in jeopardy by refusing on unspecified moral grounds when it’s a known fact that we work in this country and interact with its government when necessary? I’m not sure.

    4. I have RBF*

      If my employer wanted me to travel to a country that “disappeared” LGBTQ+ people off the streets I would have to refuse, because that is a literal danger to my person. I’m not in the military – I don’t have to go to places where my life is clearly at risk. If they insisted I would quit, because I’m not an idiot willing to risk my life for a corporation.

  28. Linus*

    I deeply disagree with your response on this! I think a great deal of harm is perpetuated by a lack of consequences for the people who enact that harm, and I think a significant consequence that should be utilized is ostracism and expulsion from society. Refusing to serve a political figure can be one of the only ways to express meaningful dissent, as these figures are usually deeply insulated from the public and from comment. I think the idea that this is a knife that cuts both ways ignores the fact that often, marginalized people are either explicitly or de facto shown the door in major cultural institutions. The intern can and should get some coaching about how to diplomatically frame dissent in the workplace, but I think your position here fundamentally is one that aligns with power and aligns to protect a “controversial political figure.”

    1. El l*

      No. Because there’s more to life than battering ideological opponents.

      It’s not about “aligning with power.” It’s about doing a job – well and with dignity.

      1. Linus*

        I think your reply betrays a real failure of imagination.

        I do not know if you have had the experience of “ideological opponents” making it functionally illegal for you to return home. I hope you don’t have that experience. I do not know if you have had the experience of lying in a workplace about your life because there are no legal or housing protections for people like you. I hope you haven’t had that experience. These are experiences I have had (am having?). Refusing service to people who are attempting to legislate myself and my loved ones out of existence is not “battering ideological opponents.” It is an attempt to assert dignity within a workplace that is intrinsically political by its very existence.

        1. Observer*

          I think that the person who has a lack of imagination is YOU.

          I’m the child of a Holocaust survivor and a parent who endured the horror of Stalinist Russia, where the fact that he was Jewish was more important to the people who abused him, that the fact that he was a refugee from the war front. I’ve watched how IN THE US “liberal” government officials decided – explicitly – that my community was to be sacrificed to the mob, rather than enforcing the law. And before you tell me that it was only Jews who should bear the anger of the group on the attack because they (look like the people who are) to some extent at fault (yes, I was explicitly told that!), I’ll point out that that same administration went on to put “expression of grievance” of ONE community (for lack of a better phrase) above the law and protecting other vulnerable communities.

          I do not EVER want to work with someone who thinks it’s ok to joke about this level of violence.

          I do NOT

    2. ChrisZ*

      I agree with you, Linus, that “ostracism and expulsion from society” would be an excellent consequence for certain people, but, and I am literally tearing up as I type this, there is a HUGE number of people, all over the world, who totally AGREE with the things these people are saying. No matter how appalling many of us find anti- Trans, LGBTQ+, women’s rights, etc., the people who have been proposing and voting for legislation to take away more and more of these types of rights keep getting reelected and having enough support to pass some terrible legislation. Instead of being ostracized, they are actually, yes, worshipped. I’m going to go have a good cry now :(

    3. Critical Rolls*

      Don’t ask publicly funded institutions who rely on political goodwill to lead that charge. It would endanger all the good they do.

  29. Melissa*

    I am relieved to see that the rhetoric here in the comments is totally different from when this letter originally ran. It was CHOCK FULL of absolutely rabid comments like “I would never allow myself to be in the same room as these people, they are literally trying to murder all of us, and if you would ever consider taking a job like this one you are a literal Nazi enabler.” (…Despite the fact that we had no idea who this politician was). Maybe people are calmer in 2023.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Perhaps the change in political leadership since that time has allowed us all a bit more perspective and to be less frenetic. Or maybe we’re all just tired now.

      1. MissElizaTudor*

        People do tend to take the threat politicians and government represent less seriously when they feel like their preferred party is in power. You can see it in how the dem-learning part of the anti-war movement dried up under Obama, for example.

        So it would some make sense that in this very liberal/progressive leaning comment section, people aren’t as amped up since a democrat is president. I would hope the extremely transphobic laws getting passed would underline that just because someone you like is president, that doesn’t necessarily mean the government and politicians are less scary as a whole, but those things aren’t as salient to the majority of people as who the president is, especially when the media heavily covers the danger posed by the president, like with Trump.

      2. londonedit*

        If the OP is in Britain then we haven’t had a change of leadership – we’ve had approximately 18 Prime Ministers in the interim, but the governing party hasn’t changed and things are objectively worse in this country in terms of the rhetoric coming out of Westminster about immigration etc. But I guess the majority of people commenting are in the US and may have a different perspective on things now. Or maybe we are all just tired – I certainly am after nearly 13 years of the Conservatives dismantling everything that used to be good about this country.

    2. Appletini*

      I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more, which I find very entertaining. I think the comments reflect the fact that many people are fine with politicians who go after groups they’re not in. Who cares about wiping Black history from the curriculum, I’m not Black. Who cares about transphobic laws, I’m cisgender. And so on. 2018’s politics emboldened the people who are spending 2023 pushing for these laws and policies.

  30. MuseumWorkIsTough*

    One thing that can be hard for those who do not work in museums to understand is foundation of our work is to serve the public. The entire public. Even those members of the public that terrible people. There are some extreme cases where you might turn down a tour like this (say, David Duke wants a private tour of the International Civil Rights Museum) but 99% of the time, the moral job of the museum to serve the entire public. That does not mean only presenting the history/art/cultural objects they like or make them feel comfortable. Often it is very much the opposite. If the intern doesn’t understand that its going to be very hard from them in this field.

  31. MuseumChick*

    Ah! I remember this spreading around various museum professional FB groups when it was first published. Interesting to see the differences in the comments when it first published and those today.

  32. I'll Take Your Money*

    Definitely discuss this with her. You can’t force her to think differently but you can give her the benefit of another perspective.

    I’m in advertising; we run ads all the time for politicians that I despise. But it’s not my job to censor their information; it’s my job to sell them the ad space. And cash their checks.

  33. Petty Museum Worker*

    I work in a large cultural institution and often have to give tours to people whom I vehemently disagree with or otherwise do special presentations for their children. When I was an intern and probably through my early 20s, I may have done the same as this intern. Now I realize that this is part of my work. However, I can’t help being petty in this type of work or programming. If possible, I include subtle messages i.e. if I have to show rightwing politicians documents from our vast collection I usually select those related to civil rights leaders, suffrage, human rights etc. I don’t think any of them have realized what I’m doing (“this is great! Martin Luther King Jr. was so important!” “Wow! WW2 incarceration camps were horrible, we could never do that again” even if just days before this person voted for policies to keep children in cages. Everyone has been too thick to realize but I get a kick out of it. And who knows? I may just change someones mind one day.

  34. expect nothing less*

    Lots of pearl clutchers taking the intern’s poor choice of words (which were definitely out of line and unprofessional) and missing the forest from the trees.

  35. Avocado Toast*

    I truly don’t meant to “both sides” this, but I am genuinely concerned with the precedent that is set when we start denying service to people for their political beliefs, specifically in the United States (which I know the OP is not from). Our country experiences a regime change every 4-8 years. What happens when the shoe is on the other foot? Private businesses can do what they want, but the entire public is entitled to use public spaces and services. Is no one else worried about what happens when the other side is in power if we start going down this road? Am I missing something?

    1. Strawberry Shortcake*

      Never make up a rule you wouldn’t want someone to be able to use against you. If I can deny service to someone because I think their beliefs are terrible, they can turn around and do it to me. It doesn’t matter which one of us is “actually” morally correct in our beliefs.

    2. EchoGirl*

      I tend to agree with this. I don’t believe in the “both sides” argument either, but the problem is that “the other side”, if you will, can exploit the precedent, even if for most of us it seems clear that the situations aren’t comparable.

      The case I often come back to in this is hate groups, and specifically the famous case of the racist march in Illinois. I think at that time, a lot of people would have probably argued that hate groups (the group in question were neo-Nazis) shouldn’t get full first amendment protections, and those arguments might well have seemed reasonable — but then you get to the late 2010s, when you have people in power who are calling BLM a hate group. To be clear, I think that classification is absolute BS (and more than likely in bad faith), but you have to imagine that if a “hate group exception” had existed, those people would have exploited the heck out of it to shut down BLM marches, and it would’ve been extremely hard to push back because of the existing precedent.

      With regards to the intern, I don’t think it’s the biggest deal in the world to allow one person to refuse, particularly if there are other people willing to do it in her place (the intern should in turn be expected, to the extent possible, to take on a roughly equivalent amount of that other person’s work so that both workloads remain balanced). But OP would then have to be prepared for the same situation to potentially arise in the opposite direction, and would probably be expected to handle it the same way, even if in that case they don’t agree with the person in the intern’s place at all.

    3. Appletini*

      The thing is, people already deny service to others on political grounds. Pharmacists who won’t fill reproduction-related prescriptions for women, hospitals which won’t treat openly queer people, stores which make Black shoppers uncomfortable enough to leave, and so on. All over the comments people are saying “what if someone denied you service because of what you believe?” to many of us who have already been denied service because of who we are. Maybe that shoe will pinch the other foot.

  36. Someone Else's Boss*

    I feel for this intern. My moral compass matters more to me than my career. There are dozens of politicians I would not be willing to stand in the same room with, regardless of how it affects my job. I certainly wouldn’t be able to be kind to them as if they are lying, lobbying to take away my rights, and claiming election results are illegitimate. But I assume that this intern is earlier in her career, and perhaps it’s a time to make connections, instead of waves. If I had an employee who was uncomfortable in the same way, I would not ask her to participate. But that’s just me.

    1. Observer*

      You want to walk out? Fine. Each person has their line. But you do NOT get to make even “hyperbolic” threats and you don’t get to refuse to do your job and expect to not have any consequences!

      Also, don’t go to work in any sort of publicly funded institution, because this is for the most part not even legal. You simply cannot deny people service based on their views, no matter how abhorrent.

      1. Someone Else's Boss*

        Good thing I work in the private sector, I guess! And for a company that would never ask me to compromise my morals. I’ll make a note to never, ever consider a job in the public sector (to be honest, I wouldn’t have anyway).

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes, part of being a public servant or civil servant is that you need to serve all the public even those you disagree with. That goes with the turf.

  37. Strawberry Shortcake*

    Every threat is hyperbolic right up until it isn’t. Intern needs to learn that not everyone who hears her speak will know with 100% certainty that her threats aren’t serious. Especially someone who is passionate about her convictions and unlikely to LOOK like she’s joking. At best, she looks childish. At worst, she’s looking at police involvement. And if she ever works somewhere with a zero tolerance policy for violence, she could derail her whole career.

  38. Caleb*

    I think this one honestly depends a lot on the specific politician, what they’ve done, and the identity of the intern in question. Like, if this is something like “this politician slashed funding for local libraries and my intern disagrees with that”, sure, the intern is probably overreacting.

    But if this is more like “my intern is Black and I asked her to come along on a tour with a politician who has compared Black people to animals and thinks they should all be lynched” or “my intern is transgender and I asked her to come along on a tour with a politician who has said that all trans people are pedophiles and is actively trying to enact genocide against them”, then… honestly, I think that it’s fair for the intern to have an emotional reaction to this and to refuse to be involved at all.

    I’m trans. There are local politicians who are, literally and without hyperbole, trying to commit genocide against people like me, who have openly stated that they think people like me are pedophiles, and who have called for people to shoot us in the streets. If my boss asked me to work with someone like that and tried to frame my refusal to do so as a difference in political opinion, it would instantly shatter all respect I had for them.

    1. Ccbac*

      thank you for this comment. far too many of the above comments are a bit “the things is you have the let the right right try to murder large groups of people because the left wants to give people health insurance and each find the other ~opinion~ to be wrong” for me to be comfortable on this site. if more people stood up for what is right professional be damned, then we might still have a chance.

      1. A Side of History*

        I follow and pay attention to a reasonable amount of people both Left and Right, and I’ve heard more rhetoric from the Left (even those in positions of power) threatening violence to those on the Right than the other way around.

        But do go on.

        1. Lucky Meas*

          Maybe you should listen to the unreasonable people on the right, especially the ones in power–that’s who the people on the left are responding to. The violence is being enacted right now.

          1. Czhorat*

            It’s because too many people see do not see violence in statements such as “trans people are pedophile groomers who want to sexualize your children”, but do see it in “I want to slap the person who wrongly accused the entire LGBTQ population of pedophilia”.

        2. Fishsticks*

          Probably worth looking into the actual investigations into who is behind domestic terror attacks in the United States, and whose rhetoric is urging those attacks on.

          1. Observer*

            The problem is that a lot of the investigation is simply not based on facts on the ground. Or rather ALL the facts on the ground. And a lot of the reporting is just as badly skewed from the left as from the right.

            Also, it’s worth noting that “We need to shut down x type of education because we can’t allow parents to indoctrinate their children” is violence against a community. Whatever you may think about that community, and whether they should be destroyed, understand that this is what’s at play.

            Right now NYS’s “progressive” educations apparatus is trying to shut down religious instruction in the state, with a focus on Yeshivas (religious Jewish schools). They claim that it’s just about “following the law”, if you look, but it’s not. Even if you ignore that mountain of evidence, you simply cannot ignore that in the first lawsuit on the matter the SED’s lawyer actually EXPLICITLY said that they need to prevent parents from indoctrinating their children.

            Do you think for one second that they are going to investigate allegations of antisemitism the same way they investigate other allegations? Of course the numbers are skewed!

            For another example – give a look at the shooting of a Jewish supermarket in NJ. It was explicitly targeted at Jews, but the FBI at first refused to label it a hate crime and a Democrat office holder defended the criminals. And it took days for anyone on the party to distance themselves from those comments.

            Why would I take their numbers seriously?

            1. Fishsticks*

              Just to clarify – you are stating that you believe that the Department of Justice, during a Republican-led past administration and with longtime employees who had served under admins of different political persuasions, acknowledging that domestic terror attacks are increasing and are overwhelmingly led by far-right militia groups, is purposefully leaving out non-right-wing attacks and therefore you will not believe their numbers.

              Got it.

              1. Observer*

                Not purposefully. Many of these folks have very strong biases of their own and it shows up in odd ways.

                It was these supposedly unprejudiced people who insisted for days that the shooting I spoke of was NOT antisemitic or a “hate crime”. Why should I trust their judgement?

                1. Appletini*

                  Those people were (absolutely, horrifically, I could add fifty more condemnatory adjectives) wrong to deny obvious violent antisemitism. That doesn’t mean that those who disagree with them (such as politicians calling for, say, eliminating Black history from public schools) are right.

        3. Appletini*

          One wonders how you define violence. For example, do you think legislating that trans people must detransition is an act of violence? I think it is.

    2. Fishsticks*

      Yeah, this is where I come down on it. I would refuse to be involved in giving a tour to someone actively supporting the genocidal treatment of my friends and loved ones. And I don’t think I should be penalized professionally for refusing to be complicit in making it seem like holding those beliefs is “just a political difference of opinion”.

      If the politician is controversial because he wants to cut Social Security spending, yeah, I’m not a fan of that but I’d still give the tour. But if he’s a “family values” guy trying to outlaw the existence of trans people or undo the legality of gay marriage, then no, I’m not going to do well in the same room as him.

      And if it DOES hurt my career to refuse to play nice with people who support trying to eradicate other human beings because of who they are, well, I’ll take the blow to my career. It’ll be worth the cost.

        1. Fishsticks*

          Nope. Just doing the bare minimum in a world where I can do very little beyond immediate actions to support the people I love as our government increasingly demonizes them.

  39. Squeakrad*

    Maybe I’m the only one who felt this, but I sensed from the op that their feelings that this was a GREAT perk, and the intern, should be honored to be considered, came in to play here. I would imagine the shock and surprise that the intern didn’t consider it that way was obvious to the intern.

    1. Observer*

      Perhaps you should read what the OP actually wrote.

      They were explicit that this as a really good opportunity, yes. But NOT for the opportunity to meet this politician. Again, they were explicit in explaining what the opportunity was for the intern. The benefit to the intern was that they would get to see a lot of behind the scenes logistics an planning that interns often don’t get to see, which is the *whole point* of internships, amped up.

  40. badger badger*

    Good on this intern! Maybe the OP should ask themselves why they’re so chill with inviting someone who says hateful things (yes, people can see through you calling a politician “controversial”) to your event!

    1. UKDancer*

      It’s a museum and most museums in the UK welcome everyone or consider it a part of their mission to further learning or engage everyone without fear or favour. Part of being a museum is often that you can’t choose who you let in, you are required to admit everyone and treat them all the same. Part of working there is accepting that you need to treat all visitors the same. Besides if he’s someone who views museums as bastions of left wing thought, welcoming him and educating him might give him something else to think about.

      In this case there are very sensible safety reasons for a private tour as well as minimising disruption for others.

      The intern could excuse herself from participating but the way she went about it was really unprofessional and it’s right for the OP to point that out.

    2. Observer*

      The OP didn’t “invite” them.

      Also, this is an institution that takes public money. The CANNOT legally decide who they will allow to visit based on the views expressed by the person.

  41. Ebar*

    There has been a lot of issue with the coarsening and personalizing of the political debate. Politicians and their families being seen as fair game (especially female ones) for abuse/threats/protests outside homes. When you are in the Public Sector and more particularly the Civil Service, with ‘service comes silence’. Now I can get not wanting close contact with person/party you find repugnant. It looked like I might be in that position a few years ago when there was a possibility I might have been directly working with elected representatives for whom I’d have no enthusiasm (and quiet possibly vice-versa) but the solution would have been for me to move not them. Sooner or later you are going to be working under a government or enacting policies you don’t agree with. This is something you make your peace with, or find another job.

  42. Appletini*

    It’s really entertaining to see people saying “you can’t deny service to those you disagree with” when so many of us are already denied service because of who we are. According to them, the trans docent must give the transphobic politician a tour but the pharmacist who rips up a prescription for testosterone or the morning after pill is just exercising his free speech. I don’t quite think that’s fair.

Comments are closed.