what can I do during a client’s bigoted rant?

A reader writes:

I work as a manager in specialized retail establishment and had a client come in today to review and complete her order. We were chatting while I finalized her paperwork, and she mentioned her children. I said something to the effect of, “Oh, I love teenagers — I used to teach high school” and that was when the floodgates OPENED. Apparently, there is a scandal at the private religious school her children attend and they fired almost an entire department due to their stance on LGBTQ issues, and I was subjected to a long rant about trans people and how offensive they are.

My spouse is trans.

I did not know what to say or how to respond. I have the opposite of a poker face (my partner and I call it “the everything face”) so I feel pretty confident that she knew I was horrified but she just. Kept. Talking … until I was finally able to say “HERE’S YOUR PAPERWORK BYE NOW” and yeet her out the door.

Do you — or your readers — have any ideas or suggestions regarding what to do in this kind of situation? Where we are sales based, I felt powerless in this situation — but now I feel terrible because I feel like I should have said something and didn’t.

Sometimes open bigotry can be so shocking that you’re just sitting there stunned, and by the time you regain your power of speech the person is gone. In my experience, the absolute best way to combat that is to prepare ahead of time — to come up with lines that you’ll be able to say, and even to practice saying them out loud so they’re readily accessible when you need them. Unfortunately, it’s a safe assumption that you will need them at some point, and this way your brain won’t be scrambling to come up with something on the spot.

Realistically, it definitely can feel harder when the bigot is a client, but you can still speak up. There’s a spectrum of exactly how blunt you can be with a client — some employers would be totally fine with you being extremely blunt even if that means losing the person’s business over it, and others would want you to be somewhat more diplomatic, but no decent employer would insist you to listen smilingly to hate speech.

Exactly what to say depends on you and the dynamic you have with the person, but some options you could use with clients include:

* “I really disagree.”

* “You must be assuming I agree with you. I don’t.”

* “You probably don’t realize how many people you meet have loved ones who are trans.”

* “My spouse is trans.” (Then stop talking and just look at her.)

Somewhat softer options:

* “That’s something you and I disagree on.”

* “I don’t think you can mean that how it sounds.”

* “I don’t agree at all, but this isn’t something we need to talk about.”

* “This sounds like a conversation you and I shouldn’t have.”

I don’t love the idea of softer options at all — as a Jew, I wouldn’t be thrilled to hear a “soft” response to anti-semitism, and this is no different — but if you’re in a work situation where you really need to avoid alienating the person, they’re better than saying nothing! Really, though, I think you can use the other options in a lot of work situations even if they feel blunt — the person you’re talking to clearly hasn’t worried too much about whether they might be alienating you.

If you want, you could also talk with your employer about what happened — because maybe you’ll find out that you can be even blunter than what’s above. Who knows, maybe your manager would be fine with losing the business of someone who’s going to spew bigotry all over your workplace, and you could just directly say “that’s really offensive” or tell the client the business strongly supports trans rights or otherwise make it clear that her comments aren’t welcome there.

But otherwise the options above are reasonable ways to speak up, even with a customer.

{ 385 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A note that it’s not helpful or necessary to the topic to post specific bigoted comments you’ve heard, transcribed verbatim (even in the process of refuting it) and I’ve removed some of them.

  2. Kel*

    Honestly, I’ve definitely just gone. “Wow, no.”

    Customers don’t get to come spew hate in a workplace, sorry!

    1. Kel*

      Also as a non-binary trans person, I would also not go with the softer approach. Call it out!

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        You don’t have to -be- part of the affected minority to call out hate speech. I’m cisgender and heterosexual, and I also say no soft approach..Call it out!

    2. Polar Vortex*

      I’m a big fan of “Wow.” too, in the driest, most “grandma just heard you say the f word and disapproves” voice ever. It conveys disgust without having to say a dang thing.

      Also a good raised eyebrow if you can manage it does a lot without saying a single word.

      They’re both easy to do when you’re not great at reacting in the moment.

      1. Kel*

        It also just expresses like, why would you possibly think this is okay??? without you having to say that. just like. total disbelief.

        1. Felix*

          It sounds like OP thought they might have been communicating this non-verbally with the “everything face”, but the client was just not picking up on it.

          1. Fishsticks*

            They may have picked up on it, even? I have seen people who rant like that who just keep doubling down and going in circles when they realize they don’t have the receptive audience they thought they would. Like if they just keep talking long enough, everyone will suddenly agree with them on their bigoted nonsense.

      2. Tio*

        I like it, but I could see an oblivious person like the customer thinking you’re saying it in response to the trans people, not their rant. Denial is a powerful drug.

        1. Siege*

          Strangely, in my experience, they don’t see it that way. The key is to keep your tone just arctically dry. People who agree with you are verbally warm, and the tone gets across much more than the words.

      3. Nina*

        I’m told I have excellent ‘disgust face’ and I absolutely deploy it when I feel it’s called for. (… and apparently accidentally sometimes when it’s not actually called for; need to keep reminding myself that some people unironically enjoy oysters)

        This is the kind of situation where I would put conscious effort into making the most legibly disgusted face I was capable of, even if I was too gobsmacked to speak.

        1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          And you can add, “I believe you’ve mistaken me for someone who shares your views.” said in the haughtiest, most icy grande dame voice possible.

      4. Siege*

        One of the biggest offensiveness-to-impact ratios in my experience is to use a word that expresses your feelings but is not in itself vulgar, and I think that’s what you’re getting at with the very, very dry “Wow”. I speak fluent sailor with a construction worker accent, but one of my biggest insults that I save for really, really egregious situations, is “that’s really tacky”. People do NOT expect it, and they’re on some level waiting for/baiting you into “you mfing piece of $^*&^,” in a really enraged voice because vulgarity is how you express anger, so if you just drop something like “Wow. That is a really tacky thing to say,” on them in a voice drier than the Sahara, they tend to stop!

        And then you can follow it up by saying “You seem to have confused me for someone who agrees with you.” Then just stare at them pointedly. But I do think you should talk to your manager because if you can offend a bigot so badly they never come back and you get away with it, you’ve done something of net good in the world, and I commend you for it.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          I think tacky is not strong enough. I think I would use the word offensive. Unless that was too blunt for management.

          1. Siege*

            “Offensive” is about how you perceive what they said, though. “Tacky” suggests an exterior standard that is not yours. It doesn’t work the same way in my experience. The word doesn’t have to be tacky, but you have to make the whole thing be “this is what ALL other people than you think, you bigoted loon”. Use offensive and the kind of person who will unload bigotry on you will hear “you are hurting my feelings.” That’s a win for them.

              1. Ermintrude (she/her)*

                I like ‘crappy’. It’s the same meaning as ‘shit’ but with less vulgarity.

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              The feeling I get from calling what they do tacky is that it’s low class. You are telling them that you think they are trash without saying it. Which is why words like inappropriate or gross don’t work. This hits them right in the status and these people usually think they are better than others. So to me, tacky is the ultimate insult for people like this.

          2. Catabouda*

            Using offensive just invites a shift in the rant to how everybody is offended by everything and everyone is a snowflake, blah blah blah.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Someone bigoted is characterizing a group of people as less than human because of who they are, and they’re not supposed to be offended by that? This is why I regularly use the f word against bigots like that, because they’re claiming dominion on how everyone else should be, speak, act, and think. F that.

          3. DJ Abbott*

            The only time I ever remember hearing the word tacky was in a movie when I was a child. It was a parody of murder mysteries, and one of the characters said, “ oh, that’s tacky. That’s really tacky.” And my mother glommed onto that and went around saying it for days. That’s why it doesn’t seem to me like a serious enough word for this.
            Maybe I would just say, “Wow, that’s bad.” They’d be expecting bigger words and less bluntness, so it would startle them.

        2. Pantalones*

          Just wanted to give you kudos for “I speak fluent sailor with a construction worker accent.” I’m stealing that one.

    3. Smithy*

      I’ve also used versions of “I don’t think so.” Instead of hearing that with a sassier or more assertive voice, think of a breezier more passive “Oh, I don’t think so” was of indicating that I don’t agree.

      I’m hardly going to put that on the list of firm pushing back, but a lot of the bad stuff I’ve heard when in those front facing jobs has come at me in a lighter easy breezy tone. Think a version of “gee, aren’t people like that so loud.” So when someone is being lighter to me, being able to come back with “Oh, I don’t think so,” and then letting it hang there has certainly felt better than nothing but also not allowed for tacit agreement.

      1. Linda*

        I’ve had luck with “oh, that’s not a real thing” in a similar tone (I get a dismaying number of people telling me about how their friend in Liberal City is forced to teach children who identify as cats). I have a physical characteristic that people have been making unpleasant comments about for decades, and it’s surprising how well the “what a mean thing to say” works when said the same way as “oh look the neighbors washed their car.”

        1. Reality.Bites*

          When they say it happens “somewhere”, you can say they’re mistaken. When they say it’s a friend who has to do it, go ahead and call them a flat-out liar.

          1. Linda*

            About half smooth pivot to a more neutral topic, and half aggressive laughter trailing off into embarrassed silence. It seems to depend on whether it’s a one-off interaction or an ongoing acquaintance, but I’d have to start keeping track to be sure.

        2. Fishsticks*

          I usually respond to that nonsense with, “Oh, what school is that? Where? Which city?” Causing them to stumble, or struggle to come up with a name. And if they say it’s a person who told them, I ask who, and express astonishment, do they personally teach at the school? And it tends to just start falling apart after that. Once they realize I don’t believe “random crap you saw on Newsmax” counts as a valid information source, they stop trying.

          Although I did have an in-law where I actually got to explain, “In reality, the cat litter was there in case of an active shooter situation in which the cops sit around twiddling their thumbs while children are trapped for hours inside.” Then I tell them exactly which school was in the news about that and where.

        3. Dainty Lady*

          Yes! I have had good luck with the steel magnolia approach to horrible statements: “My goodness, what a terrible thing to say, I think they’re/it’s/we’re wonderful, now let’s get you on your way bless your heart.”

    4. Cait*

      One time my family went on a vacation with some friends, one of whom is Jewish. We were making small talk with the couple in the hotel room next to us and suddenly the woman starts in on how they “had to ride here from the airport on a bus full of Jews”. She continued on an anti-Semitic rant while we just stood there with our mouths open. My mother, however, had another idea. She excused herself into our room and then emerged a minute later and announced, “Rabbi! You have a phone call!”. Our Jewish friend pointedly looked at that woman and said, “Excuse me for a moment” before making his departure. The look on her face was priceless.

      1. wendelenn*

        I think I love your mom and your Jewish friend. (Bonus points if he wasn’t even really a Rabbi!)

      2. Astor*

        I’ll assume that your mother knows these friends and that this was okay but I want to point out to other folks reading this who may internalize this as a plan.

        As Jew I’d actually be REALLY angry if a friend of mine tried to show up some antisemetic folks by pointing out that *I* am Jewish. If you’re going to stand up to bigots, please don’t do it by pointing them at specific other members of the group they’re targeting!

        1. Barney Stinson*

          I agree with you. That jerk needed to be specifically chewed out, not just embarrassed.

        2. Boof*

          It’s true – makes for a cute story but way better to just say it’s not cool because [I/you/ally] think it’s not cool instead of kinda foisting it back on the marginalized group

        3. Jessica*


          I’m blonde and don’t have an identifiably Jewish last name, so people seem really comfortable spewing their antisemitism in front of me. I don’t want, in situations like that, someone to come along and be like “Actually, SHE’s a Jew!”

          Please don’t ever out someone without their explicit permission.

    5. Corrigan*

      I feel like I would be so stunned I wouldn’t be able to muster anything more than that in the moment.

      1. Kel*

        Yeah, I can usually think of a million things later, but in the moment often it’s just a shocked look and a ‘wow, no.’

        1. MigraineMonth*

          It’s not the witty bon mot that really puts people in their place, but a shocked look and “wow” or “wow, no” does the most important part, which is to interrupt the assumption that you agree with them.

          I was so surprised by my manager using [word with a racist and misogynist history] about a coworker that I actually laughed (thinking it must be a joke). As soon as I realized what I was doing, I was able to stop that and say “wow, that word is really not okay.” I also made it clear at the time (and in future discussions) that I completely disagreed with the manager and thought the coworker was doing an amazing job.

    6. ThatGirl*

      In a perfect world I would say “I believe you’ve mistaken me for someone who agrees with you” but yeah, sometimes it’s so shocking, all you can muster is “wow”.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I once managed “I’m not the target market and you don’t want to have this conversation with me.”

        All credit to this forum. because the racism I encountered came up after a similar discussion here.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I once managed a “wrong time, wrong place, wrong audience” when someone finally managed to stop for a breath.

          They were totally stunned that little white girl me didn’t share their beliefs.

          1. Xers prefer to stay out of this*

            I like that, because I think even in my most stunned state I could manage six words. And it clearly ends things right there.

          2. nnn*

            There’s no right time or right place. “Wrong audience” works well on its own though.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I agree that all three are a Never in an ideal world – sadly we are not there yet. Best we can do is shut people down as quickly and calmly as possible. And a teen (or in my case a person who looked like a teen) saying what I did shut the person up rather abruptly without giving them anything legitimate to complain to my manager about (sadly I needed the job to pay my bills).

          1. Snow Day*

            oh, that’s good. I’ve used “Wait. Stop right there.”. One of my friends (a physician) said (to an anti-vaxxer patient that was whining about having to wear a mask): “Just stop talking. This is a public health issue. And I ate nails for breakfast, so you do not want to cross me today”. Which I also liked.

    7. CJ*

      I spent long enough in the South that I have “well, I never!”ed at least two bigoted rants once I moved back north. Complete autopilot.

    8. Lab Lady*

      Yeah, I’m currently really loving the power of a non-plussed “wow”, particularly in a situation where I’ve been caught off guard and don’t have anything else prepared. (I’ve practiced the startled facial expression to go along with the ‘wow’)

      I’ve used it more often than I expected in faculty meetings since we went back to in person, and typically just saying that word has been enough to either get the chair to step in or the person themselves to back pedal a bit — and I haven’t been asked to explain myself once.

    9. CLC*

      I would say, “wow, that was one hateful rant” in a matter of fact tone and move on (ask to leave if boss is supportive).

    10. Sit Down John*

      In a similar vein, I have used “Ouch!”and even “Ouch! That hurt my heart to hear you say that.”

    11. AceyAceyAcey*

      My go-to reply is “Dude, not cool!” I have this as my rote memorized response, so that I can automatically say it without having to think about more than “this is when I deploy it.” And it’s just long enough for me to think up more to say if needed, though sometimes it’s enough to just get the bigot to shut up, or to prompt another bystander to speak up.

    12. AMack*

      Very much this–part of my job is managing the relationship with our customer service call center, with an older-skewing customer demo, and we have a strict no-bigotry policy for callers. We have an offshore team as well as onshore remote agents with strong accents due to location, culture of origin whatever and we give them key phrases to deflect some of the truly disgusting things customers will say, but they are also empowered to end a call if they feel what they’re hearing is harmful, racist, bigoted whatever. I am the only client this call center has that enforces this policy and it does tend to shock people but–sorry, you don’t get to be a POS just because you feel like you can to a cell center rep.

  3. Observer*

    OP, please do talk to your employer. And you don’t even have to say that your spouse is trans if you feel unsafe to do that.

    1. OP*

      My employer knows about my spouse — we have been working together since before my wife transitioned — and I think he was also ill prepared for this and didn’t have a great way of offering support in the moment. I think we need to spend time as a company to make sure that all employees feel safe in our interactions with customers and we simply haven’t had those conversations.

      1. Silver Robin*

        The best time to have those conversations is yesterday but the second best time is now! It sounds like your employer is open to having that conversation, which is good. Definitely keep up the pressure to do that, and I hope the resulting policies/stance work well for you!

      2. Trillian*

        That would be a good training to have, the practice, the scripts. It would also get the company’s explicit commitment to have your back if you follow your training and the customer makes a complaint.

      3. Observer*

        That’s a good starting point. I agree that having the conversations now is a really good idea.

      4. Calaghan*

        I just also want to say, as a trans guy, my heart so goes out to you! What a terrible thing to endure at work.

        I know sometimes my friends have expressed guilt when the couldn’t or didn’t say The Thing That Ought To Have Been Said in the moment, and they’re so sad. But I want to remind any ally that you don’t have to be trans to be really hurt and derailed by intentional hatred; hurt brains don’t work right, and the people who *intend* that hatred, on some level, enjoy inflicting that brain damage. They know what they’re doing. You can’t be expected to roll with that punch like some kind of impervious superhero.

        Alison’s suggestion about preparing stuff in advance is the best possible suggestion; but also be prepared if, the next time some Karen confronts you with something truly vile, your brain is just equally stopped and flustered then.

        Go hug your partner!

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Could we Stop with the Karen thing? Whenever I stand up for myself against some jerk who’s doing something hurtful, I get called that. It has become the go-to term for anyone who wants to insult a white woman who is standing up for herself.

          1. Kella*

            “Karen” is regularly misused but it actually has a specific meaning, and that is, a white woman who uses her position of social power to enforce her bigotry on marginalized people (primarily people of color). This is actually a fairly accurate usage of the word.

        2. ShinyPenny (the other one)*

          I appreciate your kind and generous perspective, Calaghan. Your post touched my heart. I agree that witnessing a hatebomb can be damaging to bystanders, too, even if less-so than the intended target– and the hatespeakers are absolutely aware of that, and it’s part of their motivation.
          You articulated your point beautifully.
          I guess we all just keep trying to be prepared for the haters, and work to keep each other safe, and help each other heal from the damage afterwards. Because the goal of the haters is to make other people feel bad, and if we do walk away carrying a new burden of guilt and shame, then the hater has won too much.
          Thank you for your post.

      5. NotAManager*

        I think one thing that’s really helpful is establishing, firmly, what your employer will back you up on in terms of the language used and actions taken against bigotry expressed by an client. Whether they will back you up if you strongly express your disagreement, what their plan is if the client escalates their behavior. That way you can at least have a script (of sorts) to fall back on and you’ll have a degree of comfort that if the client wants to speak to the owner/manager or complain that the owner/manager will back you up and reiterate to the client that their bigotry is unacceptable at your place of business. It could help you or another employee feel empowered in the moment once you get over the initial shock – and just agreeing with Allison and the other commenters that it IS shocking to be on the receiving end of hate speech. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not being able to respond the way you would have wanted to at the time, everyone has frozen up like that at least once in their lives.

  4. The Person from the Resume*

    Wow! I’m sorry that happened to, LW. I too have frozen when I was shocked by the thing perfectly nice seeming people suddenly spew.

    I appreciate Alison’s advice to prefpare, and the fact that you can keep it short and simple: “I really disagree.”

    1. I&I*

      Yeah, just seconding the sympathy! It’s horrible to listen to, and especially horrible when it’s an ambush like this. Eff that person, and all the best to you and your spouse. xxx

    2. Reed Weird*

      Seconding the sympathy, it can be hard to know how to react but practicing helps. My more senior coworker once was venting about a frustrating supplier, and it took a sudden racist turn. The first time I was just not expecting it, so I froze. Then I found some older Alison scripts and practiced in my head, so when it happened again I was ready and just blurted a shocked “Whoa, that’s not cool.” He apologized in the moment and then in private, and it hasn’t happened again in my earshot.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      I’m going to practice saying “Wow, I couldn’t disagree more” in the mirror every morning.

  5. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with that, letter writer. As Alison so rightly says, being confronted with open and blatant bigotry can be such an unpleasant surprise that we have trouble grasping at the best response.

    Someone on TikTok came up with a script that I love for these sorts of situations, assuming your goal is to shut down the conversation without necessarily engaging in a debate of ideals or a possibly abusive argument: “Wow, I am not the correct audience for that opinion.” And then a brisk subject change.

    1. iroqdemic*

      Oh this is excellent! I am going to add this to my repertoire. Unfortunately I am in a red state who is making national news for passing bigoted laws (not FL but southern), so I have run into drive-by transphobia in the wild already this year. I didn’t hear what the random lady said at me and my (genderfluid) friend as we left the grocery store, so by the time my brain caught up and realized what she said my friend had already given a snappy retort and another lady in the parking lot had hollered “Ignore her, y’all both look cute!” I realized then I need to have a couple comebacks loaded in the barrel because seriously, do NOT bring that nonsense near me or my friends.
      Like we were buying cookies, minding our own business, lady. You had no need to make your disgust known to total strangers.

    2. Drago Cucina*

      This is really good. I’ve worked for many years in environments where I cannot discuss anything perceived as political during work. I think I got a soft line from someone here at AMA, “We don’t talk like that here.”

      But, I like this option. I wouldn’t be discussing anything “political”, but expressing my disagreement.

      1. NotAManager*

        That’s another good one, “We don’t use words like that here,” or, “Your language is not appropriate,” express firm disagreement without inviting further debate.

    3. Miss Muffet*

      i use a similar retort when my mom is saying something judgy about other people. Like when she was going on about a woman and all her tattoos and how they make her look ugly, I told her “I don’t think you’re her target audience”. She really can’t say anything more to that and it’s funnier than saying, I don’t think she gives two shits about your opinion.

    4. Csethiro Ceredin*

      That’s my go-to as well.

      I last used it on an older man who was starting with the “gay people are all pedophiles” – I was visiting a much more conservative area and so I’d actually thought about what I’d say if that kind of thing arose.

      It seemed to work in that he stopped talking, and was visibly surprised. I guess he incorrectly assumed any white, middle aged, cis, straight woman absolutely WOULD be the audience.

    5. That Lady in HR*

      I like this. I do something similar with certain extended family members (“I don’t think you want to get into this with me”), though in that case my reputation for opinionated arguments generally precedes me, lol.

  6. Observer*

    * “My spouse is trans.” (Then stop talking and just look at her.)

    The problem is that I suspect that there is a really good chance that it wouldn’t stop this person.

    I’m betting that Alison is thinking that this would bring a reasonable person up short. But there is a really good chance that this person is not reasonable at all. So it’s not one I would likely use, unless I was both completely fine with losing the client AND ready to deal with a really strong and nasty reaction.

    1. Ahura*

      Yes, 1000+ People that say these kinds of things have no shame and trying to shame/embarass them will NOT work. As a woman of color, I speak from personal experience. When you try to call them out, they double down and get even nastier.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, I think this would lead to a bunch of super gross and invasive questions about your spouse’s genitals. I don’t think it’s ever safe to assume people like this can be shamed into a re-think.

    3. Trillian*

      No one should have to out themselves to have the moral weight to shut down someone taking a toxic dump.

    4. Third or Nothing!*

      Speaking from experience, it does not make the person stop. They just now have a specific person they get to direct their vitriol toward.

    5. green beetle*

      Yeah, I tried that on a coworker and he just steamrolled me and kept going.

    6. Nina*

      I know people like this. I am related to people like this. ‘My spouse is trans’ won’t stop them, it’ll just make them get personal and hooboy, you do not want that.

    7. Emily*

      Alison was giving a variety of options of responses for LW to use. Alison wasn’t saying that LW *has to* disclose that their spouse is trans. Obviously LW should only use the ones they feel comfortable with/think would be effective.

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s good feedback. I’ve seen it work repeatedly with other types of bigotry (anti-semitism all the time, for one thing) but this may be a category of hate speech it doesn’t work as reliably with.

      It’s not my favorite of the options regardless, since it risks implying that the statement would have been fine to say if only they’d picked a different person to say it to.

      1. Jessica*

        As a Jew who’s dated a trans person and dealt with some bigotry around both, I think bigots respond to them differently because if you’re dating a trans person, to the bigot you’re now in the category of “also deviant.” It changes their assumption of *your* orientation, not just your partner’s. I don’t think having a Jewish partner removes you from the category of “normal” person to whom basic civility applies in the same way.

  7. ENFP in Texas*

    I’d go with a combo. “I really disagree, so this sounds like a conversation you and I shouldn’t have. Here is your paperwork. Take care now.”

    1. Totally Minnie*

      This is almost word for word what I used to say in these situations when I was a librarian.

    2. OlympiasEpiriot*


      If they persist, I likely would add, “do you want [these things]? Because, if you don’t stop I will ask you to leave without them.”

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      And if you aren’t done with the paperwork, replace the last part with “I’ll email you this when it’s complete. I have a meeting now so I need to ask you to leave.”

    4. laser99*

      I worked in retail for a long time, and in my experience customers/clients really do not understand a store, retail outlet, whatever, is a privately owned establishment. It is not a public venue, like a park. You would be perfectly correct in refusing to engage, the same way you wouldn’t if someone approached you on a sidewalk and spouted garbage.

    5. WS*

      Yeah, I work in rural healthcare so people have to go a lot further than spouting bigotry to get kicked out, but I’ve gone with a version of this on many occasions. We had a horrible national vote (“survey”) on same-sex marriage in 2017 (my 20th anniversary with my same-sex partner, hooray) and I used this constantly. And in the end, despite all the carry-on, my local region voted in favour at exactly the national average.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Currently also in healthcare – so I can’t deny them service (hospital) – but my go to is that I can absolutely set the terms under which you get that care. We have reassigned providers, switched people to telemedicine only, and also mandated that there be two Drs present for all interactions.

        Fortunately I’m back of the house (records and billing) so my interactions are normally over the phone – and my manager is totally on board with hanging up on the folks that just can’t be civil to all. But we do have to warn them before hanging up that “abusive conduct or language will not be tolerated, and I will hang up if it continues” before actually hanging up.

    6. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      I like this one. It has the benefit of making it clear you are NOT a bigot, but that you don’t have to argue about it.

  8. Delta Delta*

    Don’t feel terrible for not saying something. It’s easy to say you should have done that, but in reality, sometimes in the moment, it’s shocking and offensive and sometimes dangerous, and you genuinely don’t know what to do. If there’s a next time, you can shut it down. You can also talk to your boss and ask that you not be required to deal with this client and why (if that’s safe to do). Depending on the business and the client and the boss, maybe the boss drops the client.

    I’m a lawyer and I sometimes have to talk to other professionals. I called a real estate broker one day who was involved in a case of mine. She went on and on about how she was having a hard time selling certain properties because, in her estimation, the town was ruined by certain minority groups that had moved in. She was the boss at that business so there was no one I could speak to about her. I spared no hesitation in telling my client about her racist rant, told him to find a new broker, and have told everyone I know who needs a broker about that conversation. It’s the best I could do. (Client re-listed the house with a competent, non-racist broker, sold it for 15k over asking, and couldn’t be happier)

    1. Tedious Cat*

      Honestly, I believe hitting her in the pocketbook like this is much better than giving her a chance to cover. Racism should have consequences.

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed try not to be too hard on yourself, I’ve been in similar situations in the past where I just either sat there with my mouth hanging open or just didn’t respond hoping they would get the hint (they didn’t :( ).

      Nowadays, I go with something like “We are going to have to agree to disagree on this topic, now back to the WORK TOPIC…” or interrupting a rant with “Let me stop you there, I don’t agree, but let’s get back to the topic at hand.” Both are softer, but voice the disagreement. If they won’t move on, then I would move to something much blunter. But I’ve had time to think and practice in my head what to say and that is key. It’s hard to say the best thing in the moment without thinking/practicing!

    3. bunniferous*

      There WAS something you could do. Report to your state Real Estate Commission.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      That was BRILLIANT. The only blows rhino-hided bigots feel is in their wallets, and her losing business because of her racist opinion is perfect.

  9. aghast*

    OP, how, erm, LGBTQ+ friendly is the area you live in? I’m guessing by the vibes of your letter that it’s not awful, at least? I like the advice to talk to your manager, but it is highly dependent on which way the people around you and the way your workspace leans. (I think a manager should support their employee in fighting bigotry regardless of how much there is in the area around the business, but alas, money rules all these days.)

    1. OP*

      I was thinking about how to answer this question, and I realize that we’ve been ASTONISHINGLY lucky that we haven’t encountered any abuse when we’ve been out together. We describe ourselves as indoor cats, but when we are out and about, people have been unfailingly kind — even when we go to new places, which generally puts me on high alert because I know it’s not safe out there.

    2. Brain the Brian*

      On this front, I think it’s especially important to consider the wider cultural leanings of the region where you live and work. In the city where I live now, the “harsher” scripts that Alison provided would be fine (other customers would immediately leap to your defense if you used them), but in the town where I grew up, even the “softer” options would be somewhat shocking for most people to hear. I hate that you have to consider that for your safety, OP, but do keep it in mind.

  10. Aggretsuko*

    I would have handled it how you did. You’re not going to change her mind in a minute, and it’s a work client, and you don’t need that drama. I’d stay quiet too.

    1. Kel*

      It’s not about changing her mind; it’s about not letting someone spew hate. Even in a sales position OP isn’t powerless; they have the ability to advocate for themselves and their spouse.

    2. Jade*

      No, you are not going to change her mind. But I am not going to let those people think everyone agrees with them, they have no compunction about sharing their awful opinions and think I am just going to listen and/or agree? No way.

      1. Polar Vortex*

        Exactly, you’re not going to change someone’s mind, but you’re going to teach people that those are inside thoughts that most people will judge them harshly by if they vocalize them.

        You can’t change hate, but you can’t do nothing in the face of hate. That’s how it thrives.

      2. Goldfeesh*

        I agree 100% that you shouldn’t let people think you agree with them. As a customer at a big box lumberyard an elderly (I’m in my mid-40s, he was easily old enough to be my father) employee started going off about “Mexicans,” morphed into ranting about schools “Oh, my wife taught in the ’60s, need to bring religion and respect back to schools- never taught about sex or having those types of people in schools until these schools started teaching kindergartners about sex, etc.” I pushed back because I did not want him to think I agreed with him as a white middle-aged woman even though my husband pointed out it wouldn’t change the bigot’s mind.

        1. There You Are*

          Yep. I want them to feel uncomfortable. I want them to start to wonder if maybe not everyone around them thinks like they do. I want them to feel the sting of social / communal exclusion.

          Because I very much do not want them to feel super comfortable with their publicly-displayed hatred and bigotry.

        2. Splendid Colors*

          As a white middle-aged woman, I get to hear all my neighbors’ bigoted rants. (And that includes Latine people who are bigoted against Black or Chinese neighbors.) They are always shocked when I push back.

          It was especially bad when I was trying to organize a tenant union and one racist kept wanting to point out the race of everyone he was mad at (even though the most unrepentantly bad neighbors were whiter than I am).

      3. aebhel*

        Yeah, it’s not really about changing her mind (you won’t) so much as it is about communicating both to them and (maybe more importantly) to anyone else present that their bigotry is offensive and unacceptable.

    3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Not going to change anyone’s mind, but it will be heard by bystanders who either belong to the group or those who support the group and need encouragement.

      I’d encourage googling the author Kim Scott and the word “upstander”

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My corporate training points out that they’re going to protect us from harassment by coworkers AND vendors & customers. We’re specifically given a path to report all or any if the above.

      (One of the reasons I am still with this employer despite problems I’ve discussed here–they do carry through on ish like this.)

    5. Chutney Jitney*

      It’s interesting that you are telling the OP the exact opposite of what they said they did and what help they want. They didn’t say anything because they were in shock, not in an attempt to avoid drama. At no point did they say “please reassure me that staying silent was the right choice”.

      They *want* a script for the future, they do not want to stay quiet. You seem to be projecting your stuff onto them.

    6. hbc*

      I’ve probably changed very few minds, but I have had people…mellow. Or moderate themselves a little bit. There are a lot of people who live in a bubble who truly believe that there are vanishingly few people who disagree with them and those people will be easily identifiable as the nutjobs they must be. So their world is shifted a little bit when the person they assumed would be on their side is all “Nope, I’m not with you on this topic.”

      I know the transphobes I’ve talked to did not suddenly decide that being trans is lovely, but I’m pretty sure they had a few times where they opted against transphobia as an icebreaker or small talk topic. And if a little less hate is spewed, that’s not nothing.

      1. Zephy*

        Sometimes the best outcome is that the person stops being shitty in front of you, and that’s still a win.

      2. MsSolo (UK)*

        Ultimately, you might not change their mind about being transphobic, but you are starting to change their mind about “everyone secretly agrees with me but is too cowed to say anything”, which is an important step in changing their mind later down the line.

    7. NotAManager*

      I would encourage you to think differently about these situations. As others have said, the goal isn’t to change minds, it’s to express disagreement. In my experience, people who feel comfortable being openly bigoted in public will interpret silence as agreement or a tacit endorsement of their views – it generally emboldens them. Even a simple vocalization of, “I disagree with you completely,” is important. It’s not “drama.”

    8. just some guy*

      Defending one’s spouse is the kind of thing that many people consider really important, even if it risks drama.

  11. Happy I’m Retired #500,000,000*

    I was in a similar situation once though the issue wasn’t trans/LGBTQ. Someone who witnessed it told me my mouth dropped open like a cartoon character. I remember being shocked at how quickly the conversation went bad. All I remember is changing the subject very loudly and speaking louder when she tried to go back to it. I’d talk to your boss to get a feel for how aggressive they’ll let you be. Mine was too afraid of offending her bug you may be pleasantly surprised and better prepared if it happens again.

    1. Heather*

      As Alison said, it can be so hard to know what to say in the moment! (A lot of commenters here are going with “Why, I woulda…!” so I’m especially grateful that Alison acknowledged that it is completely normal to be stunned into silence.)

      It happened to me once, too. I’m a teacher and I was chatting in the break room with my friends and co-teachers. A substitute, whom none of us knew at all, threw out a really racist comment. Everyone was so stunned, we all just sort of tried to awkwardly change the topic! But after I left, I had a moment to reflect on what I could have said in response. If it ever happens again (thankfully, it hasn’t) I will be less thrown. (I’ve decided to do that go with, “Wow… I don’t agree with that at all.” Maybe it won’t win a Pulitzer, but at least I’m prepared and I know I can say it.)

        1. Not my real name*

          Exactly this. I once had a coworker casually drop the N word in front of a group of people. Everyone was just too shocked to say anything, but luckily she was self-aware enough to realize that she wasn’t get the reception she expected from that comment. I was exceedingly happy the day that they announced she had parted ways with the company.

          1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

            I was about to ask if we worked in the same place, but my coworker was not self-aware, and is unfortunately still with our institution. I’m still ashamed of myself for not speaking up and saying something in the moment, but I was so thoroughly shocked to hear it I had no words.
            Yes, our boss and grandboss spoke to her, and she made apologies (it was at least not directed at anyone but a question about the word itself) but OMG how is anyone so unaware??

    2. Web of Pies*

      Typically I also don’t know what to do (like the time I THANKED a bigoted political door-knocker for telling me how great their candidate’s bigoted policies would be just to get them off my porch) but I did have one glorious encounter:

      I was getting my nails done, and some lady sat next to me at the nail-drying station located in a blue-ish purple Midwestern state. We struck up a conversation as she was visiting from a red state in which I have relatives. She then sharply veered into a conspiratorial whisper (apropros of nothing) “We have all these [not her ethnic group] people moving into my neighborhood…” and goes on to besmirch their cultural practices, particularly the smell of their food.

      My friend’s jaw dropped like yours, but for some reason I switched into super cheerful mode and said “omg really, how lucky! Isn’t [ethnic] food just the best?? I’m so jealous you’ll get to have so many great dinner parties once you meet your neighbors.” Then I went into GREAT detail about a meal I’d had prepared by someone of that ethnicity which was genuinely one of the best meals of my life. I filled up the rest of the time with positivity and she weirdly didn’t want to engage with me after that.

      1. Quinalla*

        Hahaha, this is a great response. This is how my brother usually handles things. He’s a white, straight dude, but if very left leaning, but he gets a lot of other white dudes thinking he’s “on their side”. He’s definitely fired back with almost manic positivity, usually citing his own life to the point where the bigot is now trying to frantically get out of the conversation lolol.

    3. Cj*

      just last Friday we had a plumber and his helper here installing any furnace. the helper went on a political rant to my husband, though nothing is file as what happened to the OP. my husband didn’t say anything in the moment, but he did tell the plumber later that he should probably tell his employee not to bring up political stuff on the job, because not everyone agrees with.

      we’ve gotten so tired of people whose politics are the opposite of ours feeling free to say whatever they want, assuming that we will agree with them. they get pretty pissed even if you just simply say you don’t agree, but who needs friends like that anyway.

      1. Esprit de l'escalier*

        Your husband was prudent to wait and speak with the plumber later on. If someone is installing my furnace, I don’t want to tick them off right at that moment.

  12. L. Bennett*

    “the person you’re talking to clearly hasn’t worried too much about whether they might be alienating you.”

    This is so, so true and for some reason so easy to forget when you’re sitting there trying to pry your jaw up off the ground.

  13. Gender Menace*

    OP, I feel you on this and I’m so sorry you had to deal with it. I’m a nonbinary person working in a progressive bookstore, and I *still* regularly get people who spout off about pronouns and how hard it is to be a cishet nowadays and honestly, I just stonewall and turn into an NPC. It’s a safety thing for me, but my partner also reminds me regularly- it’s not my job to educate everyone, no matter what my identity or job.

    I get wanting to fight back and stand up for your spouse, but also- being in a customer service position is VULNERABLE. It’s ok that you shut down. It doesn’t make you a bad ally.

    That said- Allison is right, and her scripts are spot on- definitely chat with a manager, and maybe work on getting a “SAFER Spaces” policy up somewhere, that you can point to if it happens again, and just chirp “sorry, this goes against our hate speech policy. Bye”. Work with your boss to come up with a strategy, if you can! Because hopefully, your manager doesn’t want you to have to deal with that again either.

    1. penny dreadful analyzer*

      Gonna second having a policy; it’s both psychologically easier to point to an external policy instead of feeling like you’re putting forth your own opinions and values for scrutiny in front of someone you don’t want to argue with, and sometimes you can use it for cover in a “I just work here/I’m just the messenger” kind of way (these people don’t need to know you specifically requested the policy).

    2. Kel*

      “I get wanting to fight back and stand up for your spouse, but also- being in a customer service position is VULNERABLE. It’s ok that you shut down. It doesn’t make you a bad ally.”

      I agree that this is a vulnerable position, and I don’t know the LWs economic situation, intersection of privilege and oppression etc, but this is exactly where an ally IS needed. This is a space to practice that allyship. There is likely not a physical danger to the LW in this situation (again, not sure, but that’s an assumption I’m okay making). Speaking up is terrifying, and you’re right, it’s not the responsibility for any members of the 2SLGBTQ+ communities, or other marginalized communities to educate people about their own identities. But that IS the role of an ally.

      1. Observer*

        but this is exactly where an ally IS needed. This is a space to practice that allyship

        You really are making a lot of assumptions here. The OP is not talking about generic allyship, but the spouse that they clearly care for. So this situation is a lot more like self defense than being an ally. Not quite self defense, but close enough that I think that a lecture on the need for allyship is misplaced here. It’s not like the OP doesn’t realize this! Keep in mind also that being the spouse of a trans person makes them vulnerable too. There is a reason why so many laws talk about discrimination against X group and people *who are associated with* X group.

        1. Kel*

          Not sure what generic allyship is. I agree that the LW cares about their spouse! I assume that’s why they reached out to AAM to ask this type of question. I wasn’t attempting to lecture, but rather empower.

          1. Observer*

            Not sure what generic allyship is.

            What I was getting at is that someone without a direct and personal connection to the issue at hand.

      2. DoodleBug*

        Straight spouses of trans people (*raises hand*) are in an odd place. We may not be LGBTQ+ ourselves, but I think we count as part of the LGBTQ+ community. We certainly get assumed to be gay/lesbian/bi depending on our spouse’s presentation, which means we are just as likely to get attacked by bigots. The only way in which we are less vulnerable than someone who doesn’t identify as straight, is that the attack doesn’t necessarily touch our sense of self.

        So does that make OP an *ally*, or a *self-advocate* ?? It’s a tough question but I absolutely support the decision to stay silent out of self-protection if that’s what someone in that position chooses.

        1. Kel*

          I just want to be clear; I am in no way asking OP to put themselves in danger here. I stated that I am assuming there is no physical danger to OP. I’m pointing out that this is a moment when an ally (if that’s what the OP sees themselves as, vs a member of those communities or a potential target for that bigotry personally, which is also totally valid) could and likely should take the opportunity to speak up if they are not in physical danger (and obviously if they aren’t going to like, lose their job and can’t afford to do so, which is what I also said in my comment)

          1. DoodleBug*

            I understand — my jumping-off point was trying to elaborate on the difference between an ally and a member of the affected group, and how that line can get blurry. Not saying you were advising the OP to put themselves in danger!

            1. Kel*

              Totally! When I run workshops, we define homophobia, transphobia and biphobia as affecting people who are or are perceived to be from those communities. I definitely think that there’s a blurry line there, and I am firmly in the stance of marginalized and oppressed folks not having to educate others, let alone put themselves in the line of fire for it. I just wanted to point out to not just the OP but anyone else reading as well, that this is a great example of where an ally (if that’s what they are!) could speak up.

              Take care!

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Policy is EVERYTHING.

      Having A Policy makes so many customer facing jobs so much easier, because it is the officially backed (at any decent company) position and the irrational amongst the public cannot get you fired/in trouble (their favorite go-tos) with your bosses as long as said policies are clear, enforced, and stable.

      I luckily haven’t had to deal with open bigotry much in my job, but just knowing that yes, I can say “if you start yelling/swearing/demanding alcohol delivery while clearly intoxicated I am going to hang up” and the managers will 100% have my back? Is how you keep trained employees on the job and don’t have to keep starting over and over and over again with constant new people who bail because they refuse to be treated like crap.

      Knowing you have a ground to stand on will make a world of difference, OP.

  14. AnonInCanada*

    Bigoted, homophobic (insert profanity here) deserve to be put in their place. If I were in OP’s shoes, this would be my hill to die on. I would’ve taken the order back, refunded the bigot’s money, told her she is no longer welcome, and if she comes back the police will be called to arrest her. If I were to be disciplined or fired for acting this way, this will prove the company’s stance on this matter. And I would make doubly-sure everyone who’s within earshot of my soapbox will know how this company stands!

    People like this client do not deserve to be allowed to think their bigotry is tolerable, no matter what money they bring into the business.

    1. Kel*

      I agree with you, honestly. If the boss/company didn’t support me, I’d be looking for work elsewhere. Obviously that’s a privileged stance to take, but it’d also be the only option for me.

  15. LunaLena*

    My husband once had to use this one from Allison’s suggested scripts:

    “My spouse is trans.” (Then stop talking and just look at her.)

    He used to work in a call center and got a customer who went on a long rant about how Asians are all liars and thieves and you can’t trust any of them. The customer ended his rant with “don’t you agree?” and he simply replied “Well, my wife is Asian.” The customer went silent and rang off a few minutes later after his business was finished.

    1. WS*

      Yeah, but if you try to use this one when you’re LGBT (I’m a lesbian) you often get really nasty and intrusive questions about your body and sex life instead of silence. I won’t list them here but you can imagine.

  16. Momma Bear*

    The list of suggestions is good – and I agree to use the firm/direct ones. Having something in mind is helpful in the moment. People who are that blatant need to be called out directly. Even if they are customers.

  17. PDB*

    I’m Jewish and you would be surprised at the casual anti Semitism I encounter even here on the Left Coast. And it’s getting worse.
    I call it out but I’m not in sales.

  18. CommanderBanana*

    I like “this conversation is over” in the coldest voice I can muster.

    1. Xers prefer to stay out of this*

      I like, “This conversation is over” with the warmest customer-service smile I can muster. Both can be effective. ;)

  19. Turanga Leela*

    This happens to me occasionally in criminal defense. It can be tricky to manage, because my clients and I are stuck with each other (I’m a public defender), we really do have to maintain a good relationship, and usually the bigoted comments aren’t relevant to my representation of the client. I’ll let stray or ambiguous comments slide and redirect the conversation. If they return to the issue or it’s something I really can’t ignore, I’ll address it in a factual way in the context of the representation:
    “Just so you know, I’ve had many clients of [ethnicity], and no, the system is not biased in their favor. They have the same complaints you do.”
    “I can’t strike jurors just because they’re women. Women have a right to serve on juries.”

    I realize this is a weird context, because my clients are operating far outside of professional norms, and often bigotry is the least of their problems. I’d be curious to know how other public defenders, social workers, doctors, etc. handle this.

    1. Jaydee*

      Former legal aid lawyer here, and I think you’ve nailed it. The one-off comments went in a mental file of “random crap my clients have said.” The longer but irrelevant rants got redirected. And the bigoted statements that actually impacted on the case got the kind of neutral, factual responses like your examples.

    2. Yoyoyo*

      Social worker here. The most common bigotry I encounter is in the context of people trying to access services/resources and becoming frustrated. It sometimes results in a rant about how immigrants/refugees “get everything handed to them.” Luckily, I have worked with many immigrants and refugees and thus have the experience to be able to say something like, “Honestly, that has not been my experience working in this field.” In general, my clients have been receptive (or at least nobody has complained about me, to my knowledge). However, I already have a relationship with them and they are generally pleased with the help I provide, so they are less likely to be defensive or double down with me. I’ve had a few people come in with icky ideas about trans people which actually stem from their worries about their kids and grandkids who are exploring their gender identity. For those clients, because they have identified that concern as something to address in therapy, I provide education regarding gender identity and often refer to PFLAG. Again, a much different situation than someone just ranting. On the few occasions that has happened, I go with a “that’s really not been my experience” or “I really disagree with that.”

    3. Gyne*

      From a physician’s perspective, bigotry is easier to handle in the clinic because I can simply dismiss the patient for that. It’s especially easy if they make a comment to a staff member because “abusive behavior to office staff” is a slam-dunk termination as far as our risk management team is concerned.

      In the hospital it can be more difficult because of EMTALA (you can’t just wheel a patient to the sidewalk!) The hospital has large signs in the lobby with a patient “code of conduct” that outline a zero tolerance policy to harassment, abuse of staff, etc. That said I don’t know what would happen if a patient pushed it!

      1. Boof*

        I agree; in clinic, we institute a behavior management plan then fire if they violate it. In situations such as the hospital, a combination of reinforcement of what’s not ok and moving on after a short “nope” are how to handle it. So far I haven’t encountered someone in the hospital who was persistently like that; if they’re a physical threat can start to look into getting security involved, but fortunately haven’t really gotten into that from a patient.
        I think the worst so far was a patient who was inpatient with a life threatening / likely terminal issue that affected their brain, but they basically said something along the lines of being so outraged that people [of a certain religion/ethnicity] were getting medical care for [serious, lifethreatening issue]. I basically just stepped out of TLC “I will listen to you ramble for 20 min to make sure I covered everything” mode and into brusk professional mode and said “I really think everyone should be able to access [disease care]” and moved along with what I needed to be sure of and went on with rounds. I will always do what needs to be done for appropriate care but warm fuzzies are optional.

  20. Ana Gram*

    I usually say something like, “oh what a terrible stance. I completely disagree” but I say it in a very warm tone with a smile on my face. I think people are just really weirded out by the juxtaposition and I haven’t had any out of line responses to this. So I think it works? If nothing else, they really the made an incorrect assumption about me and I’m not the best audience for Bigot Commiseration Time.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I wonder if it’s because they get riled up and then suddenly there’s no outlet. You’re disagreeing so they know they aren’t getting the positive response they expect, but you’re not doing it in a (however justified) horrified or aggressive way, which could provoke even more ranting. It’s probably very deflating to be met with an attitude of Cheerful Nope.

      OP, I’m sorry you were subjected to that and I hope you’re able to get a policy in place to help with any future trash behavior.

      1. A Girl Named Fred*

        I’m also a person who freezes when in situations like this, and I really appreciate your phrasing of “Cheerful Nope”. I’m definitely going to keep that in the back of my head when I practice saying these things so I’m hopefully better prepared next time.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Yeah, they want to get riled up to A) have a cozy little bigot-fest with you or B) get you mad so they can feel righteous/start a fight. Draining the energy from their hate leaves them blinking like Wile E Coyote right before he realizes he’s not on the cliff anymore but midair.

      3. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        +1 to the Cheerful Nope, as my new favorite way to categorize non-confrontational shut-downs.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, I like, “you’re mistaking me for a person who agrees, I don’t” said with the same fake-smile. In my experience, people are momentarily confused by being told they’ve made a mistake and they have to stop and figure out what you’ve just said and why it doesn’t match with your face, and it’s enough cognitive effort to break the flow.

      1. Nina*

        I am usually very capable of fancy word-ing and eloquence but when I’m on the spot like OP was, I find it really helps to have something ready to go that doesn’t require me to think at all and doesn’t matter if I stutter or mix up a word.

        ‘I really don’t agree’ is easier for me to keep loaded than ‘you’ve mistaken me for someone who agrees’.

      2. LizBoston*

        I’ve definitely used “What about me made me think I’d agree with that?” as a way to shut that down. It’s infuriating.

          1. Unkempt Flatware*

            In response to a gross group email where everyone agreed with the writer/sender, I wrote back and said, “I’m incredibly insulted you thought to include me in this group of people and even more insulted that you thought I’d find this funny.”

    3. Sedna*

      I love the Cheerful Nope! I am not at all good at confrontation, but delivering my profound disagreement with a pleasant, matter-of-fact tone and then immediately moving on to the next task has worked great with shutting this stuff down. I disagree and I’m not interested in arguing with you about it, I’m not your audience, I am here to deal with what you need and that’s it.

    4. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I have used a cheerful “No, thank you!” in settings like this. No clue how it affects the inside of their head, but it does seem to derail the rant.

  21. I should really pick a name*

    “We don’t allow that kind of talk here. Please take your purchase and leave”.

    If there’s someone who outranks you at the store, walk away and get them. You don’t need to stand there and listen to abuse.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This! You have a greater obligation to keep *all* of your customers *safe* than to placate a bigot.

    2. Llellayena*

      This. I was trying to come up with a way to phrase this. It’s standard enough for a business to have non-discrimination policies (since it’s likely some of their clientele are from a group discriminated against) that this wouldn’t come across as a direct disagreement with the customer and is less likely to provoke arguing/debate about personal viewpoints. If there is arguing, you’re an employee enforcing a “store policy,” not an individual with a differing opinion.

      1. I AM a Lawyer*

        Excellent point. And, truly, employers have to protect their employees from harassment, even from third parties like vendors, clients, and customers under Title VII (gender identity is now a covered protected class under the Bostock case). So, there should be a policy on this, anyway.

    3. pally*

      Yes! Exactly!

      I’d be very concerned about any other clients hearing this ugliness. Either because it drives away customers who are offended or it means customers are not safe and must shop elsewhere.
      The business owner sure ought to be very concerned this conversation took place in their establishment. Management should be empowering the employees to refuse service to anyone displaying such ugliness.

    4. AnonInCanada*

      I love this! Though I personally would’ve refunded the bigot’s money, taken the order back and told her to leave (see my previous rant above) because no one deserves to have to put up with this behaviour.

  22. Kacihall*

    I deal with transphobic coworkers on a regular basis. we provide background checks so we see people who have changed their names and what the previous names were. I am not going to win. they are all aware of my opinions (and think I’m a ridiculous liberal when they’re feeling kind) so I just stick my headphones in when those conversations start.

    none of them have been directly rude to any trans applicants. it’s only after they hang up the phones. it makes me sick (which, coincidentally, ties in to why I’m still here – I need my health insurance until I get my current issues resolved. America!)

  23. Lacey*

    Perhaps ask HR how they want you to respond?

    A friend of mine was in a similar situation. And while he was confident that the company wouldn’t want him to AGREE with the customer, he was also pretty sure that they didn’t want him to react like he would to a friend or family member.

    He shuffled the person out the door and then talked to his boss. They gave him the official company line to shut it down with. Probably something that should have been gone over in training.

    1. Lirael*

      noooo. that comes with a very high risk of being told to do something that lets the bigot continue being an obvious bigot and continuing to spew hate out loud in OP’s workplace.

      1. Lacey*

        I guess you have to know your company. I’ve never worked at one that would want that to happen, but I’m sure they are out there.

      2. Katie Impact*

        If that’s what the company would want you to do, that’s important information to have, unfortunately.

  24. LinesInTheSand*

    I think you should decide what you want out of those interactions. Do you want to be a visible ally or do you want the conversation to end as quickly as possible with a minimum of fuss? Or something else? I know it’s really personal to be on the receiving end of a transphobic rant while married to a trans spouse and I think you should get straight in your own head whether you want to rain fire and brimstone or whether you want to do other things to support them. This is really tricky and really personal and being at work makes it worse. So figure all that out, and then you may be on a better path to figure out what your response should be

    I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here.

    1. Your Computer Guy*

      I’ve definitely just quietly zoned out during client rants when it just doesn’t seem worth the fight. I wait for a pause or a breath and completely non-sequitur back to business. Like, “weird rant about COVID conspiracy theories” and I break in with “so how’s your wifi coverage in this space, any dead zones?”

  25. Goldenrod*

    It’s so hard when you are client-facing and your job heavily emphasizes that.

    For example, I used to work in a hospital where the policy was (rightly) that staff should always put patients first. One of the nurses once mentioned to me that she struggled when patients would occasionally say something racist. (This nurse is white; her husband is Black.)

    She told me her go-to strategy was to pretend to misunderstand. Like, if the patient complained about “these kinds of people being here,” she would cheerfully say, “Oh, I know, it’s so diverse here, isn’t it wonderful? I love that we get to work with all different kinds of people, it’s so great.”

    Probably wouldn’t work in OP’s case – unfortunately – because the client was so extreme. But the nurse I knew said her strategy usually worked with her patients to shut it down.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Oooh, I like this! I don’t know that I’d ever have the presence of mind to call on it in a situation where it was needed (and fortunately I deal with very few of those situations in my life, I am so lucky) but I will practice now so that I can call on it whenever necessary.

  26. NB AFAB*

    Objectively, the best thing to do with bigots is set them on fire for all to see. Sadly, we don’t live in an objective world. Do it in secret.

    If the cops ask, I’m joking. But only if the cops ask. (Then set them on fire too.)

    (I snark so I don’t cry. I’m so sorry this is the kind of world you and your spouse have to deal with. Right now I am too burned out to have useful advice, so I can only offer macabre humor.)

      1. NB AFAB*


        (Right now, I’ve got an old Strong Bad quote stuck in my head: “No two people are not on fire”)

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          The musical band Mclusky has an album titled, “The Difference Between You and Me Is That I’m Not On Fire.”

          OP, you have my sympathies. I hope you are able to figure out what works best for you, and get support from all entities involved to make that happen. Also dark humor is the ONLY humor.

    1. Not cool*

      If the cops ask, I’m joking. But only if the cops ask. (Then set them on fire too.)


      It’s not cool to threaten to set anyone on fire, cops included. Even if you’re joking.

      This thread should make that clear.

      1. NB AFAB*

        This thread should make that clear.

        Then I highly recommend actually reading the original comment, which contains words like “snark” and “macabre humor.”

        I’m not even getting into how “weird” it is that you’re caping for cops in a post about bigotry, when cops are all too often the ones perpetuating it.

        “You a cop, slick? Ya gotta tell me if you’re a cop!”

        1. ASAP*

          She said it’s not cool to make threats – even if you’re joking.

          Some of us think don’t think it’s funny to make threats, even as a joke or as “snark” and “macabre humor”.

          1. NB AFAB*

            I posted this to entertain OP–and it did. I frankly don’t care about people hand-wringing over metaphorical jerks on fire who don’t actually exist and thus can never be on fire. OP does exist, and is the person I’m concerned with here.

            I know how much some AAM commenters love getting whipped up making fanfic about imaginary situations, and I’m not interested in that. Back to webcomics for me. OP, sorry this thread got weird, but I still got your back in this twisted world. :D

  27. :)*

    I think one of the worst aspects of any customer facing role is when a customer knows that you are a captive audience and have an expected image to uphold during the interaction.

    Its always a controversial topic: religion, politics, etc.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Sometimes it’s just built in assumptions, too. When I was earlier in my career, a customer I had just helped told me I was going to Heaven. Without thinking I replied, “Not according to any of the world’s major religions.”

      [Long, awkward pause]

      “So, let me know if you need any other help!”

  28. ASGirl*

    I would tread carefully, if she’s that unhinged, if you told her your spouse is trans, she might use that to have fellow bigots blast the business on social media and the internet, and then your business gets wackos writing one star reviews and nasty comments on social media. This happened to a business owner friend of mine in Texas.

    1. Student*

      This is very much a matter of knowing your community and personal resources. Hiding is a valid choice to make for the LW to protect their family.

      However, people often hide from bullies when standing firm is often more likely to get the desired result. It’s easy to imagine that these bigots as much more powerful than they actually are. Letting that fear control your life is sometimes necessary, but it’s not a great way to live. If the bigot customer doesn’t actually have specific, known power over the LW, then it’s probably better for the LW to stand up to her, for the LW’s long-term benefit.

      Social media presence and reviews have different impacts on different businesses. It’s also probably not LW’s responsibility to manage the business’s social media presence. Getting review-bombed by wackos is a business hazard that can come up in lots of contexts. We wouldn’t ask a black person or a Jewish person to put up with bigoted behavior to protect a business’s restaurant rating score or Amazon seller rating or whatever. We shouldn’t ask trans people to put up with abuse and stay closeted to protect the imagined reputation of a business they work for.

      I think people who advise this kind of thing don’t realize how stressful and difficult it is to live in the closet. It takes a toll. I think the LW would’ve said something if this customer had outsized influence over her, rather than being one customer out of many.

  29. Student*

    My spouse is also trans. My go-to canned statement is close to AAM’s advice. I add on a statement to clarify exactly what I am asking/expecting from the other person, because I find that spins things down faster than leaving the door open. Some people will take a flat statement like, “My spouse is trans” as an invitation to argue more, or they’ll enter a panic flight-or-fight moment that none of us want. Giving an expectation/request helps give the other person an out to take, and they’ll usually take it at that point to get out of the conversation.

    “Ah, you didn’t realize, but my spouse is transgender. You’re entitled to your views on gender (…to teach your children about gender your way, to dislike my spouse, etc.), but I need you to stop insulting (…misgendering, accusing of a crime, etc.) my spouse.”

    Sometimes I add something humanizing, like, “I love her very much, and I’m sure you can understand that insulting my family is not productive to our work.” I use that when we otherwise had a reasonable working relationship before the outburst.

    As needed, I’ll reiterate/repeat “I expect you to treat my family with respect, just as I respect you and your family. I’ll need to end this conversation if you can’t and get back to our business on .” When needed, I’ll be specific “I don’t need you to like my spouse or agree with my position on this, but I do need us to get back to business, and I need these insults to cease in order to work with you further.”

    You don’t need to get them to change their minds about transgender folks, and you shouldn’t try in this situation. You don’t need them to like you or your spouse. Bottom line, you do need them to stop insulting your spouse to your face and switch back to business.

    1. Kel*

      I’m impressed with this response, but god I can’t imagine keeping my sh*t together long enough to spend that much time on someone saying bigoted stuff to me. Like, they don’t deserve this much politeness.

      1. Student*

        Deserve it? No, of course they don’t. But this is for situations where I’m working. I gotta eat and pay my bills. I don’t need to pretend my spouse doesn’t exist while I do that, but I need to avoid conduct that gets me fired and finish our business. I work with lots of scum bags I don’t like, so that probably helps me keep neutral to scum bags that get personal.

        You say this same crap to me in a bar or social gathering, then my response is going to be much less calm.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          I’m guessing this is also a situation where there’s actual conversation happening, as opposed to a retail-type transaction. If I’m going to continue to have a working relationship with this person, it would make sense to use full sentences as Student is saying.

  30. e.y.w.*

    I’m so sorry, OP! I totally understand being too shocked to say anything. I used to work in a public nonprofit, and I would take 1-2 minutes before each shift to remind myself of things I could say in problematic (or even just uncomfortable) interactions.
    Still, though, I remember one time a man came up to me and another female staffer, and out of nowhere, said “It’s good you have plants on your desk. Women need to be caring for something to keep their minds functioning well. It’s hardwired in.” The other woman was usually amazing at shutting this stuff down, but even she was so shocked that we just kinda stood there, horrified. He walked away before either of us said anything, and then at the door, said “Oh man, so many bitches here.” I didn’t chase him down, and later on, I was mad that I’d been too shocked to say anything! It happens, unfortunately. But I do think that keeping those phrases in the back of your mind can help!

  31. Justin*

    I’ve been called the N word at work before (two jobs ago). I turned to someone, said, “you heard that, right?” Then I walked away and told my coworkers (who were in an office, it wasn’t their fault or anything) and told them I was going to take a moment.

    It wasn’t scary (this was a senior citizen), but it’s always a sinking feeling. Not saying this is what you must do.

    When I came back The Entire Leadership Team was there and it actually turned into a moment where I felt supported. Never saw that lady again.

    But that’s basically my strategy, I just ask someone else to deal with it, get it documented, and leave the area as soon as I can so I don’t lose my whole composure and get arrested or something.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I am really sorry you have to have a strategy for this, but it is a really powerful one.

  32. Anon for this one*

    Yikes! OP, I’m sorry you were subjected to this. I think I likely would have frozen in the moment, too, or clammed up and walked away, but I think an icy “My spouse is trans” would have been the best response.

  33. Abogado Avocado*

    I am really sorry you’re having to deal with this, LW. If you feel like responding, go ahead and do so, but don’t feel that you must try to educate the clueless.

    I live in a place where an unfortunate number of people over the years have used “Jew” as a verb in casual conversation. I regularly respond: “I’m Jewish. Don’t use `Jew’ as a verb. It’s offensive.” And it is shocking how many people follow up with one of two responses: (1) by saying that this is a compliment, to which I reply, “I assure you it is not a compliment”; or (2) by saying that I don’t look Jewish (I have blue eyes), to which I ask, “What does a Jew look like?” (and then watch the realization of their racism dawn).

    These experiences have taught me that a depressing number of idiots will resist being educated, so it’s up to you whether you want to invest the time and effort to do so. If you choose to remain silent and just appear gob-smacked by their bigotry, I can totally understand that choice.

    1. Observer*

      by saying that I don’t look Jewish (I have blue eyes), to which I ask, “What does a Jew look like?” (and then watch the realization of their racism dawn).

      I think a better response is “So you’re saying it’s ok to insult Jews?”

      Talk about saying the quiet part out loud.

      by saying that this is a compliment, to which I reply, “I assure you it is not a compliment”

      I often want to ask what exactly they think is the compliment here? Because we both know that they don’t think it’s a compliment.

    2. Your Computer Guy*

      I am also Jewish with blue eyes and get the “you don’t look Jewish” comment. I’m probably way more smart-mouthed than I should be in response, I usually say “yeah, I got the horns removed when I was a teenager.” But it does 100% shut down that whole topic.

    3. Bonkers in Yonkers*

      Thank you Abogado Avocado. Those are terrific responses and you’re doing a bit of tikkun olam every time.

  34. Kan*

    This is awful and I’m sorry you’re faced with it. I’ll throw another option out there because it’s generic, widely applicable to many different occasions (you can get a lot of practice in before you need it), easy to remember (because it’s true!) and may literally make you feel more relaxed for your own self-care:

    “I don’t know how to respond to that [followed by the blank eyes of cows chewing cud]. ”

    You can say it with whatever level of pointedness or innocence you feel like in the moment. You can follow it with nothing and leave the ball in her court, or you can follow it with something; for example, “Let’s wrap this up and get you on your way!” – again, as friendly or as pointedly as you want. You can follow it with something more assertive, or with whatever your employer wants you to say – but no one can take “I don’t know how to respond to that” away from you as an initial response.

  35. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’ve used the ‘riiiiiiight…’ response. Said in the exact tone as you’d say to someone loudly proclaiming that they have the face of a lion and the body of a horse. Whatever response you’d use to someone denying reality.

    Practice! Act out responses in the shower, in the car, in your head until they become familiar.

    But if there’s one thing I know about these bigots is that any form of arguing back or saying you don’t agree will set them off onto a ‘but think of the children!’ rant. You cannot reason a person out of a viewpoint that they didn’t reason themselves into.

    1. OP*

      I had honestly never thought about practicing a response but I can see that I need to (and how that would be helpful.)

      1. boo bot*

        It can really be helpful! My go-to is along the lines of “That’s not true,” or “I don’t believe that,” said in a relatively calm but serious tone—I think the key is to use phrases that feel natural to you and that you’ll be able to say under pressure.

        1. I have RBF*

          When they come off with the nonsense about cat litter and identifying as cats I think “That’s just not true. Are you always so credulous?”


          Seriously, when my mom comes off with shit that I know she got from her Fox watching neighbors, my response is “That’s horse shit propaganda put out by right wing conspiracy theorists. We’re smarter than that.” Cue backpedaling.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I really do recommend saying it out loud until it feels natural; practicing in your head (or writing it down) just doesn’t work as well.

        I’ve taken improv comedy lessons to learn not to freeze up under pressure, and I’m still slow to respond to bigoted comments because I have to pick my jaw up off the floor first.

  36. The Crowening*

    ugh. I’m really sorry this happened to you.

    I used to work in a place where my manager and a good number of coworkers were racists, but the sideways kind that they think is OK. Think, snotty comments about how “some people say the police are militarized” or that they shouldn’t be subject to airport security measures because they’re white. Knowing I couldn’t get away with pushing back with everything I had, I opted for a cold, “I am not the right audience for this.” It communicates that I do not agree, and I do not want to hear it, and will not just chuckle along to make you feel safe spewing your crap.

    Did I convince a bunch of hardheaded southerners to reexamine their biases? No. But I made them momentarily uncomfortable for having spoken their crap out loud, and in the workplace I’ll take that.

    1. e.y.w.*

      I like that a lot. It communicates your point without inviting further conflict, which would work great for someone uncomfortable with confronting a client/customer.

    2. cncx*

      I’m a cia white woman southerner and I read so. This is my go to because it doesn’t invite further discussion without handing the awkward back-the offender has to ask why.

  37. MPerera*

    A co-worker, out of the blue, started talking to me about how Covid had been deliberately created by Chinese scientists. I was so taken aback that I just stared at her, without answering, blank-faced.

    She said she saw a documentary about it. I kept staring at her in silence.

    She said a number of people agreed with this idea, but I could tell she was starting to lose steam. So I kept giving her the blank wordless reaction. She trailed off, changed the subject, and never mentioned Covid to me again. I don’t think this response always works, but it was great to watch her rant petering out.

    1. pally*

      Yep! It just got more and more awkward for her.

      I had a “friend”** living in my home. She tried to get on my good side by making conversation that included some antisemitic words. I stopped her in mid-sentence with “we do not use words like that in this home”. I said it very firmly. She was very surprised to hear this from me. She figured that my Middle Eastern last name meant I was antisemitic. Nope!

      But she did refrain from that point on in making any derogatory statements about anyone-in front me.

      ** I use ” ” because this person was offered a stay at my home for two weeks while an apartment she was going to move into opened up (no charge). Only, there was no apartment, she was broke and had decided that she was not ever going to move out of my home. She lived in my home for months.

    2. Joielle*

      I did this with a catcaller on the train once – I was honestly trying to think of a good comeback but ended up just staring at him with a big frown on my face. After a few awkward seconds he left. In retrospect, this was much better than any comeback I could have said.

      1. londonedit*

        The British Transport Police recommend – if you feel safe doing so – interrupting and saying something to the victim of unwanted train creepiness. You can go with ‘Are you OK?’, but if that feels too direct then ‘Excuse me, do you have the time?’ or ‘Excuse me, does this train go to Canary Wharf?’ or whatever works well, and if the person being leered at/catcalled/intimidated responds positively you can then follow it up with ‘Oh, thank you – I’m just off to visit a friend and I’m sure I’ll be late! Don’t you hate that?’ etc etc. The idea is not to engage with the catcaller/creepy staring bloke/weird intimidating guy who won’t leave her alone, but to engage with her instead so that firstly the weirdness is with any luck defused and stops, and secondly the creepy bloke knows she’s got support and people aren’t just going to sit around and let him be creepy. And of course, if the creepiness doesn’t stop, you alert the police (there’s a specific text number on London transport, 61016).

  38. Lirael*

    I kind of want to suggest pretending that she’s taking the other side and arguing from that premise, LOUDLY – “wow, I can’t believe the teachers did that, well done to the school for getting rid of the bigots”. either she would realise the situation, or if she tried to be all “no the school is bad” you can then say “clearly this is a subject we won’t agree on”.

    but I don’t know how it would go in reality :(

    1. Student*

      This invites a more detailed conversation. People LOVE correcting you when you misunderstand what you’ve said – it’s like human catnip. If you want to pick a fight with your bigoted uncle, then it’s an indirect, plausible-deniability way to pick such a fight.

      I think most people in a business situation want to shut down further discussion. Firmly. So this strategy isn’t likely to help.

    2. Snell*

      Another downside illustrating why this approach might work effectively: I had assumed the school got rid of the teachers because the /teachers/ were pro-LGBTQ, but the letter doesn’t specify whether your interpretation or mine is correct. I can see either situation as impetus behind the customer’s rant—either she’s angry the school was pro-LGBTQ and fired bigoted teachers, or she’s angry that pro-LGBTQ teachers exist, even if they were fired.

  39. Urka*

    Unfortunately, I have to say that “my spouse is trans” doesn’t always work.

    Source: my spouse is trans and I have used that response before.

    1. aghast*

      Yes, I think a lot of the well-meaning posters suggesting that don’t realize it might simply:
      – egg her on
      – cause her to turn on OP as “part of the problem”
      – “I’m so sorry you’ve fallen for their lies you poor dear”
      – gross questions about their relationship
      – etc etc
      Specifying that someone close to you is the target of someone’s rant only shuts down a reasonable person who would not start that rant to begin with.

      1. Linus*

        Depending on the environment, it can also get OP fired– plenty of places that have no protections for queer people in the workplace.

        1. NeutralJanet*

          Assuming that OP is in the USA, which I think is the case based on wording, it actually is illegal throughout the country to discriminate in employment against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as per Bostock v Clayton County. That’s obviously not to say that discrimination doesn’t happen, but it isn’t allowed. OP may or may not be LGBT themselves, but I’d imagine that being married to a trans person goes somewhere around the perceived sexual orientation box, even though you can be married to a trans person and be via and straight yourself.

      2. Observer*

        Specifying that someone close to you is the target of someone’s rant only shuts down a reasonable person who would not start that rant to begin with

        That’s the thing that gets to me, too.

    2. A Trans Spouse*

      Yeah, I’ve had to tell my spouse, who’s very protective, to chill out on being such an enthusiastic ally that they bring trouble on us that could be avoided.
      So much of the time what a bigot wants is to provoke an argument or a personal response, because they are bullies. It makes a bully satisfied and empowered, not ashamed or embarrassed or sympathetic, to see they can bother someone. Polite, unmoved dismissal takes the wind right out of their sails though. When they’re looking for a tug-o-war, they still get what they want no matter which one of you tugs harder and ‘wins.’ But they look a fool if you don’t even pick up the rope.

  40. Casey Stephens*

    I’ve said “we are not having this conversation” and shut down my face in response to a coworker’s ignorant comment about how they “don’t mind gay people but don’t want to see two men holding hands” (or something like that). Later, I wished I had said more but thankfully they had the good sense to shut the hell up after seeing my face.

  41. Kelly*

    I completely understand why you froze. I had a client who I really liked before the incident spew on and on about how trans people shouldn’t be allowed in public while our nasty, bullying office manager chimed in. I knew I couldn’t say anything because the OM was already making my life a living hell (she was mad I said long time clients don’t get a pass for animal abuse because they’re “doing their best”) and thought I was a “snowflake.” I wasn’t sure my boss/company owner didn’t agree with her as well and I couldn’t afford to be unemployed. I was being terrorized at work and I still feel guilty 5+ years later that I didn’t say anything.

    1. Your Computer Guy*

      Discretion is the better part of valor. We live in a punishing society with few safety nets. I’d encourage you to release yourself from the guilt for making the choices necessary for your survival.

      1. Kelly*

        Thank you for that. I suppose me losing my job (or my sanity) wouldn’t have changed any minds or really helped anyone anyway. Bigots gotta bigot.

  42. bunniferous*

    In Real Estate we can and in the majority of cases should just fire the client. We risk our own careers if even a whiff of bigotry gets on us. Housing is a basic human right. EVERYONE deserves a place to live and deserves to live in the neighborhood they choose.

  43. not a hippo*

    Ughh, I never had the balls to stand up to bigoted clients, unless you count completely leaving the room when a cliet went on an absolutely insane homophobic rant at the vet clinic I used to work at.

    Otherwise I’d just stare blankly and pray for death, mine or theirs I didn’t care.

  44. Pdweasel*

    “Wow, that’s a terribly rude and mean thing to say. I think we’re done here. Your total is $6.66. Card or cash?”

  45. Anon Archivist*

    Don’t beat yourself up too much LW for freezing up or not knowing how to respond. I used to work at an archive that collected extremist political materials. I found myself having to speak graciously with donors or oral history subjects who genuinely believed that I and my family were inhuman, because I am Jewish. I believed at the time (and continue to believe) that documenting the activities and history of these groups was worth putting aside my personal feelings. I learned to say things like, “While I disagree with the views of your organization, I believe documenting this material is critical to the history of this country.”

    Though I rarely needed to, because most of the time, the donors never asked how I felt or really talked politics. This was fine with me.

    So, you’d think I’d have no trouble speaking up. Yet, when I am confronted by this sort of thing unexpectedly at my new job, I’m often so shocked that I almost can’t respond in the moment. I’ve learned to get better at it, but it still blindsides me occasionally. This is especially hard when you feel like you’re a captive audience and you don’t have the power in the situation. Allison’s scripts are good. I hope having something in your back pocket will help next time, because it has helped me get better at it for the rare time it happens.

  46. Bi One Get One*

    I’ve had a little luck with interrupting bigoted rants by very cheerfully saying “Oh, my girlfriend is trans!” and continuing to smile and process the transaction. I think most of my success is based on the fact that I look like a middle aged soccer mom so nobody is expecting me to be queer in the first place. Of course, I’m a retail cashier in a high volume discount store, so I’ve had to sort of weaponize cheerfulness just to get through the day. I’m not really allowed to give customers much pushback, I just try to make it unrewarding to continue the rant.

  47. Former Retail Manager*

    Based on the context of your letter, this person is likely wealthy and you likely work at a high-end retail establishment of some sort. Frankly, how you respond in the future, should this ever reoccur, is really dependent upon a few things:

    1. Is your employer corporate or individually owned / Will management and corporate leadership back you and let her know that her behavior is unacceptable? (because if you confront bigot Karen she will likely not hesitate to complain about you to whomever will listen, and may even outright lie about the exchange to portray herself more positively/as the victim)
    2. Is there any possibility that the business’ identity/owners/history seem to align or at least attract a certain type of customer? Maybe your manager has similar views as this customer. I hope not, but you never really know.
    3. Is the business willing to lose her business and all that that entails over this issue (negative social media reviews, word of mouth trash talking to other patrons of the store, complaints to corporate etc?)
    4. How much do you need this job?

    This might sound extreme. I was a retail manager for over a decade and I’ve heard it all….racist comments, anti-LGBT, fatphobic comments, anti-Semitic, all of it. I worked for a large corporate entity with locations nationwide (U.S.) and I assure you that the moment the customer went to corporate with a complaint the story changed and it became a he said/she said, even when other witnesses were present. It was all about smoothing things over and keeping the customer happy. Corporate not only apologized on behalf of store staff, but gave these customers coupons and giftcards so they could return to our location, continue with their rude remarks all while rubbing their “victory” in our faces. Some would gloat, some wouldn’t, but frankly, taking a stance against these types never got anyone anywhere. My advice to my staff was to not engage in any way or to let them know that such comments were not appropriate for a family friendly environment with a stern look. Finish the transaction and get them out. People with those views were never going to change their viewpoint based on a single conversation with a clerk in a store. At best, they might feel momentarily embarrassed. At worst, they will decide that they have all the free time in the world to complain about you or otherwise make your life/your employer’s business life miserable because you dared to challenge their beliefs.

    No one should have to endure such comments, and by all means, Alison’s suggestions are great, but from a practical standpoint and someone who has been there, I’d personally not die on this hill unless you are 100% sure that you have the full support of everyone up the chain.

    1. Linus*

      Absolutely seconding this, as someone who has had experiences like these in retail and phone environments. A lot of your response is going to be dictated by your direct and indirect management.

    2. Anon Archivist*

      Yes, I was wondering about this in a retail setting. This seems like practical and pragmatic (if somewhat depressing) advice.

    3. Prefer my pets*

      This. So many of the comments today feel more like fantasy than what it’s actually like in the real world these days.
      Any type of remark affiliating yourself with their hated group(s) paints a fat target on yourself & your family for physical violence. Anything calling them out is more likely to get you fired and them a coupon in American retail/service industry.
      When I worked retail, really the only option was to absolutely ignore it like they hadn’t spoken and try to continue with the transaction & get them out as quickly as possible. Now that I’m a public servant, the most I can do is “that isn’t an appropriate discussion/topic here”.
      Do I fantasize about making all the snappy come-backs and telling them what absolute scum I consider them to be? Sure…but the reality is I 1) don’t want to get shot/assaulted and 2) need to pay bills & can’t get fired.

    4. Anonymous 75*

      Great answer. Life is not a TV show and all the imaginary “you just got owned” responses people keep suggesting (which I would love to actually work) is very, very unlikely to work especially in this type of setting. Is it fair? No. Should it be changed? Sure. but unless the LW or their colleague own the business and have enough of a customer base that they’re able to handle the blow back (because anyone willing to be this abhorrent in public will bring blowback) it’s simply not realistic or fair to expect them to be okay with risking it.

    5. Critical Rolls*

      I’ve worked retail and if you know your management won’t back you, the keys are to not engage the content and end the interaction. So, “Oh, I never discuss politics at work” rather than “That’s an awful thing to say.” And then “Can Barnes & McDillard’s help you with anything else today?” followed by, “I need to assist the next customer” or “Excuse me, I’m needed elsewhere [walks away]” or anything to end the interaction.

  48. Accidental Manager*

    ‘You need to take your opinions outside.’ And just look at her. Stop whatever you were doing, do not attempt to finish the transaction. Then just wait.
    Don’t make any other comments unless you are simply repeating the same statement. Adding anything else will just give them something to argue about.
    It is much more difficult to respond to people like this in person instead of over the phone, but if you can keep a level, firm tone, they are often at a loss on how to respond. They are expecting emotion of some kind, either in agreement or shock. Don’t give it to them.

  49. Office Drone*

    As a manager, does the LW have a bit more authority than the average salesperson? If so, it might be worth taking a “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” type approach to the situation. If not, it might be worth asking the owner to delegate that authority to the managers so they can protect employees (and other clients) from hate speech.

    For example, how would you handle it if the customer kicked off her shoes and loudly ranted about the necessity of wearing shoes? You might gather up the paperwork and politely ask the customer to return when they’re wearing shoes. Here, you might say, “Our shop’s policy requires respectful, professional speech by both our representatives and clients. I have to ask you to leave now. If you like, we can try again to finish your paperwork at another time. Good day.”

  50. Linus*

    “This conversation is no longer relevant or productive. Is there anything else I can do for you?” is something I’ve used in retail and phone jobs in situations similar to this. Being prepared to say something really is 75% of the battle. I know having interactions like these– and being forced to operate within narrow tolerances for behavior– can be stressful if not outright traumatic. I hope this doesn’t happen to you again, but if it does, I hope you feel empowered.

  51. Petty Betty*

    “We can agree to disagree, but on this, that will be all we can agree on.”
    “I am not the audience for this.”
    “Wow, you certainly have changed my opinion… about you.” (Yes, I am confrontational)

  52. Opie the Dog*

    As someone with a trans sibling, I would stop them right in their tracks. I would tell them that my sibling is trans and I love them, and I simply won’t hear any generalizations about an entire minority group. I would let them know that kind of talk simply would not be tolerated under any circumstances.

    There is no room for a “soft approach” when fascists are trying to pass bills to eradicate trans people.

    1. penny dreadful analyzer*

      Just wondering – Have you, in fact, done this? Or are you just sure you totally would?

      1. Opie the Dog*

        I’ve done it. I am not afraid to stand up for what is right – even if someone fired me over it. I would not want to work for a bigot.

  53. too many dogs*

    This is what we say. It might work with you. “It is our policy to treat everyone — customers and others — with fairness and respect. I understand that you feel strongly about this, but your comments are inappropriate here.”
    If the person keeps going (and they will), we say, “These comments are inappropriate, and I’m not going to discuss this with you.”
    All delivered in a calm, cool, civil tone.

      1. too many dogs*

        Thank you. The phrase “…..is inappropriate” is the key. It covers “Your language/ your behavior/ your yelling/ harassing the staff…. is inappropriate.” A business security expert taught us that.

  54. MuseumChick*

    If it is safe to do so (physically as well as related to thing like if you would be at risk for being fired from your job, etc) I would go with Alison’s suggestion of “My spouse is trans.” say this while making direct eye contact in a deadpan voice.

    Other options I like:

    “Wow, that’s a really weird thing to say.”

    “Stop. I strongly disagree with you. Let me finish your transaction so you can be on your way.”

    Another options is what call “The Intentionally Oblivious” basically you pretend like they are asking for information and you intentionally misunderstand them.

    Person: (Begins insane tirade about trans people)

    You: “Isn’t just crazy how people can be afraid of trans people these days? Like, the facts are so clear from (insert resources) about X, Y, and Z! My spouse is trans and I’m always so afraid of what could happen to them with all the discrimination and hate crimes the community faces.”

  55. Spicy Tuna*

    I totally get where you are coming from feeling frozen to the spot. I’m glad you have an “everything” face even though it sounds like it wasn’t having an effect. Even in an environment where “the customer is always right”, I do not think that extends to tolerating bigotry.

    I had a situation in an Uber in 2017 after Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused havoc in Puerto Rico. I live in a city with a large population of immigrants from Latin America. I was chatting with Uber driver, who volunteered that he was from Cuba, about the fact that my family had not heard from my aunt, who lives in Puerto Rico (our family is not Puerto Rican; my aunt has lived there since the 1970’s however). The Uber driver said that he hoped that Puerto Ricans wouldn’t all come to our city because we had enough “foreigners”. I mean, Puerto Ricans ARE U.S. citizens!!! He only said this to me once he figured out that I wasn’t Puerto Rican. I was dumbfounded. In the moment, I said, “well, I like all kinds of people, they make life richer” or something lame like that while coming up with a million better things to say once I exited the Uber

    1. Observer*

      Talk about lack of self awareness!

      An immigrant complaining about too many “foreigners” is just . . . I don’t even have the words. And that’s before you get to the fact that Puerto Ricans ARE citizens….

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I had a weird experience similar to this too – in my case, taxi driver (clearly of Jamaican or at least Caribbean origin, by accent) ranting about recent Jamaican immigrants being gang members. Very awkward. I tried to push back at first, but that only made him more vociferous. I think I said at one point, “I guess you would know” rather wryly. That confused him – was I acknowledging he knew what he was talking about or saying “it takes one to know one” – and gave me enough time to pay and leave.

  56. greenfordanger*

    I say, “I have a very different perspective and this is why.” Then I say why I believe what I believe. ” I don’t think people feel as attacked when you don’t put your views in direct opposition to their’s but at the same time you are not backing down a bit on what you believe to be important. So, in this case, I would say,” I can see you feel very strongly but I have a different perspective on this issue. I believe that trans people are people with the same rights as others and to deny them any rights on the basis of a their natal sex is unacceptable discrimination. Trans people are people who were born into bodies belonging to the wrong sex and I don’t see that fact as being relevant or deserving of differential treatment. And here is your paperwork. Thanks so much for coming by.”

  57. MicroManagered*

    I think it’s always a good idea to find out what your boss thinks you should do in that situation, not for permission but so you know what they’ll support if you stand up a client and they try to tattle on you. Just knowing your boss has your back will make it slightly less uncomfortable to say something.

    I really like how these two could pair together:

    You must be assuming I agree with you. I don’t.

    and then, if the speaker thinks that’s an invite to explain their views even further:

    I don’t agree at all, but this isn’t something we need to talk about.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with that OP.

  58. Sharon*

    “Everybody has their opinions, but I try to be kind and respectful and would appreciate the same from you.”

  59. SnootyGirl*

    “no decent employer would insist you to listen smilingly to hate speech.” Alison, unfortunatly there are hundreds and hundreds of indecent managers/bosses/corporations who would insist you DO need to listen to the hate speech and would absolutely fire you or write you up for the suggestions you made to push back.

  60. AnotherOne*

    I don’t have a comment on how to handle it. But my mom used to get anti-semitic comments from customers when she worked in a bank- she always said, for some reason people feel real comfortable sharing their opinions with total strangers that they knew nothing about.

    yeah, my family is Jewish.

    it was awkward.

  61. HonorBox*

    Maybe another option, which I deployed this weekend when my teenager told me to F off…
    “No, no, no, no, no, no, no…”

    It might fit in the “softer” side of responses since it doesn’t call out just how awful the client was, but stops the whole thing in its tracks. And hopefully, like it did for my teenager, makes them think about what they said and how it was wholly inappropriate to say.

  62. Selina Luna*

    Oddly enough, something similar happened to me yesterday. I was getting new tags for my car because we finally got our lienholder to transfer the title over (that was so annoying!!!), and while we were waiting for the computer to compute, we mentioned that we were teachers at the local high school. The guy went on about how he couldn’t be a teacher in this day (probably true) and how kids these days didn’t know their own genders (demonstrably not true) and made a joke about how a semi-popular candy brand had settled the gender issue when they were invented. He also happens to sell car insurance through the same company that we get our insurance through, just we get ours online. And he said he “really wanted our business,” so he was putting our registration in a branded holder. I said to my husband when we got back to our car that if he wanted our business that much, he wouldn’t have told a joke about trans folx.
    Sadly, in the moment I made a face and rolled my eyes, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want any issues with getting my car tags.

    1. Middle Aged Lady*

      Some dude came to the house to sell us a new security system and I noped out because of his blue lives matter hat. I didn’t say anything. I wish I had. But nowadays I am even more afraid of angry men than I was when I was young and vulnerable. People have gone insane and they have guns. I was alone in the house with him and knows my addresss.

      I asked a guy in the ‘hood the other day to leash his loose dogs and he went straight to ‘you need therapy, you $itch.” Wow. So glad I am retired and don’t go in public much.

  63. Pam Beasley*

    I am very non-confrontational, so I always kind of wondered what I’d do in these situations because I fully expected to just not say anything… until it actually happened.

    I was in a waiting area in a hair salon with my 2 year old, attempting to keep him occupied with toys. I was chatting light-heartedly with another parent about tablets and how I’m sure I’d cave one day and start bringing one around but so far I’ve managed without one thankfully, and some other random person in the room decided to butt in with “Well, you can’t even let your kids watch Disney nowadays anyway, since all they want to do is push that trans agenda on your kids.” I surprised even myself when I looked him straight in the eye and just flatly said “I have no issue with that at all” and continued my other conversation lol.

    Of course, a totally different situation. I was not depending on a sale (or anything at all, for that matter) from this person, and I’d never see them again and I knew it. But my point is, sometimes you can even surprise yourself and speak up even when you least expect it.

    Also people are reaaaaaally excited to tell you how bigoted they are for some reason. I’ll never understand.

  64. Goes On Anon*

    My spouse is also trans so let me just say, it gets easier to fight back over time. The first time I called someone out I shook like a leaf for like two hours after.

    The sad reality is I’ve now had enough practice that it’s just like any conversation. :(

  65. Middle Aged Lady*

    When I worked in restaurants I had no fear of losing my job and actively called out racism, sexism or homophobia when I encountered it. One group of old biddies said ‘we don’t want that little x to serve us, give us another table’ and I loved telling them there was no table in the place where the x people wouldn’t be preparing their food, so what difference did it make?
    And the sexists! I would say out loud to all my other tables, “This guy right here just said something about my (body part.) what should we do with him? Kick him out or let him stay here and eat in shame?”
    The academy was harder because, though supposedly devoted to high ideals, it was full of people who could make life hard for me or my boss. A lot of Greatest Generation dude profs would say outrageous stuff. My response (librarian) “was that a reference question?” Or “let’s stick to the topic at hand, shall we?” All while trembling with rage inside.
    My mother would shame people by saying “I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat it, louder, please?” But that only works on people with shame.

  66. FroggerMan*

    Since I haven’t seen anyone mention it; please also consider your safety when thinking of how to handle bigots at your workplace. You don’t know how strong their bigotry runs, and they know where you work. Especially in America, you don’t know if they’ll turn to violence, and to what extent. There’s no shame in just ending the convo if you deem that the safest option.

    This is also why I’d be especially hesitant to use “My spouse is trans” in a customer/client facing position. That feels far too personal for me, and I’d hate for anyone to even try to go after my loved ones.

    1. Middle Aged Lady*

      Yep. I told an unhoused person he could not look at obscenity on the library computers and made him log off. That weekend I was downtown alone and I saw him, pointing me out to his friends. Then I saw him near my house. I was terrified for weeks.

      1. vegan velociraptor*

        I’m wondering why it’s relevant that this person was unhoused – did that make you more terrified for some reason?

        1. AnotherLibrarian*

          Well, I can’t speak for other places. But when I worked in public libraries – we couldn’t file a restraining order against someone unless they had a permanent address. Additionally, enforcement of a restraining order against someone without a permanent residence is hard, because people without an address can have a “reason” to be nearly anywhere, or so it was explained to me by a police. The closest we could get was a “no-trespass” order which was limited to the building and had to be given in person. This made protecting our staff from folks without addresses more challenging.

        2. Middle Aged Lady*

          Yes, for the reasons Another Librarian posted below. Unhoused persons are not more frightening to me than the general public. Sorry that wasn’t clear and made it sound as though his experiencing homelessness was a reason to fear him specifically. I should have explained it better.

        3. Splendid Colors*

          It’s also relevant that he CAN’T just watch his porn at home–the library’s the only place with an actual monitor instead of a phone screen.

          1. Middle Aged Lady*

            Not porn—obscenity. One’s legal, the other isn’t. I am sure AAM and its readers don’t want to know the kind of stuff he was putting on public view for others to see—including underage patrons and my student workers, whose well-being I took very seriously.
            We always had to make that distinction when calling people out. It grew quite wearisome to have screens facing the reference desk and a whole row of guys exercising theie rights, so to speak. And have to look at what they were doing when another person complained. And ues, someone was arrested at my job for viewing materials involving children. It was the equivalent of rants coming at you all day long: sexist, misogynistic rants. I almost quit over it because our dean would do nothing—intellectual freedom!!! —until this group of patrons found a bank of computers right outside rhe administrative suite. She changed her policy overnight!

  67. SereneScientist*

    Hey LW, lots of great advice here in the comments. I’d like to suggest one other: bystander intervention training. There are a few non-profits out there that do this for free on a regular basis, and I found even the one-hour version provides some good descalation tips to help defuse situations like this in the future. Might be useful not only for you but for the business you work with, to provide tools to manage such situations in the future.

    1. TigerPants*

      We had bystander intervention training at my workplace. Very practical and helpful stuff. Wish I’d had it years ago!

  68. Your Social Work Friend*

    I’m really sorry you had to deal with that. I like the response “I’m not the right audience for this” and if they continue, cut them off with a “I can’t continue to work with you under these conditions. Let me find you another associate.”

    It can be hard to cut off people mid-rant because we’re socialized not to interrupt. But this is not polite conversation and is not someone you are interested in interacting with.

    Cut that b off like it’s DC rush hour and you’re in the wrong lane for your exit.

    Do no harm, but take no shit.

    1. Pippa K*

      “Do no harm, but take no shit” – I have this motto on a silver bangle. I wear it to work as a sort of talisman for dealing with a few awful colleagues.

      1. Wonderer*

        I’ve always liked that quote attributed to Malcolm X:
        “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”

  69. She of Many Hats*

    Depending on where you live a “Why, Bless Your Heart” in the right tone can convey an awful lot. The other one is “I hope no one you love has to choose between you and their own well-being.”

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      A friend of mine was a very LGBTQ friendly pastor in the South used something like, “I am going to pray for you that the Lord will open your heart to all people and allow you to see the inherent goodness in all of his children without judgement. Would you like to pray with me?”

      And he found it was quite good at shutting people down real fast.

  70. Ellis*

    I just want to push back a little on “my spouse is trans.”

    OP, you can ask for your spouse’s explicit permission to do this, if you want, but in general, outing other people as a rhetorical device is not OK, and I’d hate other readers to get the sense that it is. Allison’s other suggestions are great. But I’ve heard a lot of queer- or trans-adjacent folks use that like it’s a way to shut people up, and to at least some queer and trans folks (including me), it feels – icky.

    1. SereneScientist*

      Seconding Ellis. The unfortunate truth is that with strangers who are showing bigoted behavior, we (that is, the queer community) have no way of knowing how this person will respond to pushback. Saying “my spouse is trans” might elicit something like empathy or at least a moment of pause…if the person is reasonable and shares the same social norms and understandings as us. It’s also just as likely the person will 1) not care at all and 2) wish that we didn’t exist all the same.

  71. Maree*

    While I defer to others’ lived experience I’m not sure I agree with Alison about soft answers.

    I’ve read that an adversarial response to disagreement typically entrenches the opinion of the bigot (as they feel attacked, stop listening and mentally rehearse and reinforce their own arguments). It also causes others, overhearing the exchange to mentally register both parties as unreasonable and to switch off also.

    I have also read that a soft response can trigger others to reassess whether they agree with the statements being made and can help them to mentally disagree (we are programmed to follow the group when unsure of our own opinions). I believe this is research based.

    In my work we often challenge clients on their views (bigoted and other unhelpful thoughts) and find the best result is when they are within their window if tolerance (not triggered or heightened).

    Of course, for people who are part of/close to the targeted group, the responsibility is to their own safety not the education of others.

  72. Xers prefer to stay out of this*

    In addition to Allison’s excellent suggestions, I would add something that clearly indicates I am not inviting further discussion on the topic or asking for the bigot’s response. So, something like:

    “My spouse is trans. [Pause] So we’re going to finish up this paperwork right now.”
    “I disagree, and this isn’t the venue for a conversation like this. Let’s get back to your order.”
    “You may not realize how many people are hurt by words like that, so I’m going to do both of us the favor of ending this conversation.”

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I really like your last suggestion – real people are being hurt by you is something most people don’t want to contemplate.

  73. Speak Up. Every Time.*

    I am getting on in years & I have just hit that sweet spot where I can say things to people & come across as wise & someone to be listened to. I use it to my advantage & do not let an opportunity to educate people about racism, sexism, ageism, bigotries, etc. slide by without speaking up.

    I know it can sound trite, but the old saying that all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing is absolutely true. The more people who refuse to allow comments to go unchallenged the less we will hear from these people.

  74. BubbleTea*

    I think it was either here or Captain Awkward where I encountered the phrase “I hope you’re not saying that because you think I agree with you”.

    I once had to tell a service provider that I was not going to sign the contract after all, because her social media (which she confirmed was hers) revealed significant differences of opinion on fundamental issues (conspiracy theories, but more relevantly public health matters). I did it by text, which was easier, but still hard. Practising this stuff does make it less difficult next time.

  75. It's a tax prep office*

    A similar question: What can you say when a client drops some outdated and offensive terminology? I feel comfortable informing a friend or relative, “Oh, we don’t use that word anymore.” But when it’s a client, I really have no idea what the etiquette is.

    1. Pippa K*

      If they seem to have used the term without obvious malice, I go with “oh, I think we say [appropriate term] now” in a bland, point-of-information way and carry on talking. If I’m already annoyed, I’d probably say “yikes, haven’t heard that word in a while” because I wouldn’t mind registering disapproval. But if they’re outright bigots, that’s the time for the more carefully considered assessments above I guess. (So many good comments in this discussion!)

    2. slinky down the stairs*

      I’ve gone with something along the lines of “Oh wow, that word can come across as really hurtful/derogatory/. [XYZ] is much more inclusive.”

      Of course, skip that second sentence if the whole topic shouldn’t ever be discussed.

      I’ve also had some decent success with replying to “When the contractor is out in the field, he’ll…” with a quick and breezy “or they will” with both clients and senior coworkers. I try and use more of a “yes and” tone than a corrective tone.

    3. Katherine Boag*

      I have casually bigoted extended family and I’ve been practicing saying ‘please don’t use that word in front of me’. If they call me woke or snowflake or sensitive I then just say ‘yes I am, thank you for respecting my wishes’ (because if they’re calling me sensitive they’ve stopped saying slurs >:)

  76. Sam*

    I am a 40 year old transgender man. I work in a professional role in a government environment. Almost no one at work knows my history. Unfortunately, I hear this kind of stuff all the time. It’s exhausting, and I have yet to find a foolproof method of getting people to shut up. However, turning my back and refusing to engage works pretty well to get the message across.

  77. Sweet Dee*

    I used to work in a customer facing role in a blood donation centre. Our workforce was entirely made up of women, ranging in age from 21 to early 60’s.

    One day, we had a donor come in (not a regular), and partway through his plasma donation, started yelling out the most vile stuff about abortion being murder and women being killers. Regardless of your feelings on the topic, a blood donation centre is absolutely not the appropriate place for such lecturing.

    We were all a bit shocked and didn’t know what to do, until one of the older nurses on our team (you know the kind, those old RNs who trained in a hospital 45 years ago and don’t tolerate nonsense from anybody) went “right, I’ve had enough of this!”, walked up to him, put his machine into a return, gave him back all his red cells and saline, disconnected him and said “This is neither the time, nor the place for your crude small-mindedness. Nobody wants to hear it. You have to leave now and if you ever come back here again I will turn you away”.

    And that’s why she was everyone’s favourite.

  78. CorgiDoc*

    I used to work for a small retail shop that had us practice responding to these types of situations during our training. Their recommended script was “We do not tolerate [transphobia/homophobia/racism/sexism/anti-semitism/islamophobia/other relevant ism/phobia] at this establishment. I need you to stop with this rhetoric or you will be asked to leave.” We were instructed to call a manager if they didn’t either stop or leave immediately. Obviously you need buy in from the owner/upper management to say this but if you have their support it worked well for us.

    1. sofar*

      I think this is a great comment b/c he LW’s question specifically pertains to work. I think a lot of commenters’ responses are great for social situations not tied to employment (or at supportive workplaces), but could get them in trouble in some work places. I LOVE that your workplace had an official policy.

      It’s been a longgggg time since I’ve worked customer service, but anytime a customer said anything gross, I’d say, “Sir/ma’am, this isn’t a conversation I can have at work. Would you like me to get the owner?” They’d usually say something like, “Oh come on I was just joking blah blah blah,” and I’d say (loudly), “All the same, if you want to talk about that, you’ll need to talk with the owner and not me.” Usually they’d noticed that other customers were getting curious at that point and slink away to their table with their order number after that. This type of thing happened so rarely way back then.

  79. Pantalones*

    I’ve had enough of the “somewhat softer options.” Don’t foolishly flip-off your boss, but otherwise, be direct. These clowns think they represent the majority of Americans because no one wants to stand up to them. I’m not saying you should argue. Just make an assertive statement and move on.

  80. Dawn*

    I’m trans (and gay) myself and my go-to for this stuff, or anything bigoted really, is an icy, “I’m sorry, I’m not here to talk about that.” Or depending on if it hasn’t veered into that yet but if it’s heading that way (think opining about the pandemic restrictions, etc,) I might soften it a little with “My boss isn’t paying me to talk about that!” or “I don’t discuss that stuff on company time!”

    But I generally interrupt and shut it down and if they escalate that just gives me a good reason to kick them out.

    1. Dawn*

      Worth noting that my personal response would be much sharper; this is the compromise with how aggressive I can be with customers (and keeping a handle on my own temper in the moment.)

  81. Momma Bear*

    I have a trans kid and always wish I spoke up more. Usually I say, perhaps you’d think differently if it were someone you loved, and let it hang in the air. I really don’t know how another person’s gender or sexual identity affect anyone else, especially in the workplace or out in public.

  82. HannahS*

    My work environment is different because I’m in a position of power (doctor to patients in hospital.) I’ve had success with:
    “I’m going to interrupt you, John. We don’t comment on peoples’ race here.”
    “Oh no I’m not RACIST–”
    “Yeah, let’s move on. Tell me more about XYZ.”

    It goes well enough. I am not a confrontational person by nature, and I found it took a few years of trying and practice and building confidence to call people out (even/especially they’re being bigoted towards me.) And I still don’t do a great job all the time. What I’m saying, OP, is don’t beat yourself up, and do see it as a skill that you can develop with time and practice. And I’m sorry you encountered such a terrible person at work.

  83. Numbat*

    “Really? That sounds made up to me” was the best I could manage the other day when encountering a bit of disinformation (not outright abusive or hateful). I would have liked to have added, “That sounds like the kind of thing people make up when they don’t actually like [insert group] much”.

  84. Silverose*

    Oof. The last time this happened to me, it was an acquaintance from church – a notoriously liberal church nationally speaking and she went off on a rant at me at my workplace about a controversial topic in the church…that I was on the opposite side of from her, and that had her coming off as very conservative compared to the national church composition. And it was a topic that was wholly inappropriate in my workplace. I tried to sidestep by saying the topic she was complaining about wasn’t much different than another topic that was already settled and accepted within the church…and she went off on a bigoted rant about how that topic never should have been accepted either. And in so doing insulted me directly because the secondary topic I brought up was part of what made me feel welcome in that particular church. I let her wear herself out and leave on her own…..and the next Sunday at church, I politely introduced her to my family (though perhaps with a little too much glee; they didn’t normally come to church with me). Which directly challenged her bigoted views and threw them back in her face in a very obvious way. I never had to deal with her bigoted rants in my workplace ever again. In fact, she avoided ever talking to or seeing me there again; she’d wait until I wasn’t at the counter to be helped. I regret nothing.

  85. Happily Retired*

    “I disagree with everything you just said.

    “As a devout Christian, I find everything you just said as anti-Christlike and completely against my understanding of a gracious and loving Creator, who made all of us.

    “I hope you have a nice day.”

  86. Erin*

    When I worked as the receptionist of a salon, I had a small repertoire of firm but still professional responses in situations like this which I was empowered to use, but thankfully didn’t have to use all that often:

    “We don’t do that here.”
    “You’re entitled to your opinion, but those types of comments are not appropriate here.”
    “I think you’ve misjudged the culture here – at Job we are proudly LGBTQ-affirming.” (or “we accept everyone here.”)
    “I’m going to need to stop you there because I am not the correct audience for that opinion.”

    And then redirect to getting back to Task At Hand.

    With the frat bro twerps who would come in and laugh or make snarky comments about the fact we asked for pronouns on our new client intake forms, especially because I was the reason it was there and I put it there, a well-placed uncomfortable silence and a “We don’t do that here,” or “I’m not the audience to be sharing this with,” would generally embarrass them into, at the very least, being quiet.

  87. Bizhiki*

    It can be hard to access verbal responses immediately after the shock of being faced with hateful opinions, it’s a genuine fight, flight or freeze response. I lean toward freezing, and sometimes it’s easier to access my scripts if I sort of kick-start the process with my body language. Even just shaking my head helps break the hypnotism of horror at what someone is saying, and gives me time to let words resume their brain-to-mouth circuit.

  88. Sheila*

    My go to is “Wow. I hope you didn’t say that to me because you think I agree with you.” I don’t interact with clients at work though, just jerks in other parts of my life.

  89. Flashgordon*

    As a fellow Jew, I am amazed that when some people learn of this they use it as an opportunity to crack antisemitic jokes and expect me to laugh along with them because its just a JOKE! I also unfortunately tend to freeze in the moment.

    1. Student*

      This is a thing that men sometimes do to women in heavily male-dominated areas as well. It’s a test, and it’s an effort to drive a wedge between different people in the minority.

      If you laugh uncomfortably or freeze up, they’ll generally decide you’re “one of the good ones” and expect you to put up with it indefinitely. They want you to be just like them, in their minds. They’ll treat you like an exception to the rule, but expect you to take their side in conflicts with other members of your minority group. They’ll use their connection to you, however tenuous, to justify being cruel to other members of your group – it makes you personally into the minority in the old “I’m friends with one person in this minority group therefore I cannot be a bigot!”. They’ll still consider you firmly less-than them, but slightly above other minority members.

      If you express disapproval, then you’ve confirmed in their minds that your minority is the problem and you’re part of that problem, so they’ll freeze you out.

      You’re damned no matter what you do, so don’t blame yourself. Just do your best.

      I’ve gone through this from all angles as a woman in a male-dominated field. Took me a long time to actually understand what was happening when it came up, too. I’ve seen it in action for other members of minority groups. It can be really intoxicating to be the special-minority-friend-who-gets-included for a while.

  90. Yup*

    My go-to has become, “yeeesh, my worst nightmare is having to think about other folks’ genitals at work.” That does a great job shutting most people up.

  91. cncx*

    I’m a cis white lady from the south with a southern accent and while I live in Europe, every time I visit the states people peg me as a white southerner and just think i have no problem with certain politics and stances.

    Depending on the situation and how safe i feel, i will usually go to “I’m not the right audience for this” or “that hasn’t been my experience with Muslims/Mexicans/LGBTQ/etc”

    My favorite line is when people start talking about racism or how the Civil War allegedly was about states’ rights, is to do a slightly bemused/horrified face “oh I’m from [Deep South state];” or, if I’m in the South, “oh I went to [university with racist and civil war history]” and then tip my head to the side like a dog who isn’t sure what is going on. Usually my weird face shuts it down because I’ve identitfied myself as someone who should be representative of a certain group but I’m not picking up on the coded language they think I should. I like it because it shuts it down and says not everyone from where I am from is “like that” but they can’t be sure unless they get awkward, which no one wants to do.

    1. BoksBooks*


      I also use “not the right audience” and find it to be very easy to employ even when tempers are high

  92. Vancouver*

    Two generic lines that I’ve used: “that is extremely offensive and inappropriate” (I used that one on a colleague, then just stared at him until he walked away) and “I am not willing to listen to you make bigoted/discriminatory comments. Goodbye.” (then hang up the phone or walk away). I actually practiced saying these in the mirror when I worked a retail job; it helped me make sure that my expression and tone were an appropriate mix of appalled and disinterested in continuing the conversation.

    Being able to shut things down relies on you having support from your employer/manager/someone higher up, but there are lots of good people in the world and I’d say there’s a good chance that you will find support, maybe not from every person but from enough to make a difference.

    One last note: don’t feel too bad for not saying something more direct at the time. Calling out bigotry is HARD, especially when it is in an environment where you are focusing on serving the customer. Take this as an opportunity for growth so that you’re prepared to stand up next time.

  93. Hexiv*

    Lots of great tips. Does anyone have advice on what’s the right thing to do when someone is being bigoted to a group you don’t belong to, but someone who DOES belong to that group is sitting right next to you? Like, if this woman had started up on her anti-trans hate, and there’d been a trans person sitting right next to the LW? I guess I worry that starting a big fight over something that doesn’t really impact me personally is gonna make things worse for the person who IS affected personally. Especially when it’s sort of a passing microagression, and objecting to it is gonna prolong the whole issue. But also, when /I’m/ the trans person in that situation, I often feel too uncomfortable to bring it up myself, because if I do then they’re likely to target me personally.

    I remember one time when I was hanging out with a white friend and a Latina friend, and the white friend made a “joke” about Latinx people, and I like, sort of tried to deflect her politely. She doubled down. I glanced over at the Latina friend, uncomfortably, and she laughed it off, so I just let it rest. I guess it weighs on me kind of, whether I should’ve said something.

    Later on when the same friend started up about Latinos again when our mutual friend wasn’t present, I did let her have it. It was just such a weird tense scenario with us all, we were all so lonely and unwell, and I already knew the racist friend was not going to learn anything or apologize.

    1. Student*

      In situations like this, I have a process.

      I exclaim, “My grandmother is {minority group being targeted}!” This should be loud, and should convey that you are horrified someone would insult your dear grandmother to your face. Accompany it with hand gestures – whatever is semi-authentic for you. Fists-on-hips, or open-hand-over-mouth-with-gasp, are both good options for me.

      Grandmothers get this really weird, special cultural space reserved for them in a lot of cultures. Even pretty hardened bigots are going to have a hard time attacking your grandmother to your face. Your grandmother is also far enough removed from you that most people will struggle to blame you for your grandmother’s identity or life. It short-circuits their brains because they won’t have something ready for this situation, and usually at least gets them to back-peddle or stop.

      And, crucially, it makes minority group seem present, without pinning anything to the person sitting next to you.

      Grandmothers are also usually far enough removed from you that the person you’re talking to about this is likely not going to be able to confirm or contradict this. Obviously, not the line to use at the family reunion with a bigoted uncle, though.

      My grandma was, in reality, a very bigoted white woman. This is the least she can do for me, really.

    2. Erin*

      I think you can often halt the bigotry without escalating it using a firm boundary phrase that makes it clear this is not a discussion, this is the end of the conversation with you. But my general advice would also be to do your best not to involve the member of the group you don’t belong to without their consent – if they want to join into this conversation, they will. Otherwise, “Hey, that’s not cool to say that and I’m not interested in hearing comments like that / having this conversation with you.”

      As the trans person in this scenario, I tend to prefer my well-meaning ally friends NOT launch into the “You probably don’t realize how many people you meet have loved ones who are trans” or “My X is trans” if I’m sitting right there next to them, because that is highly likely to subject me to having to witness additional bigotry when I’m already uncomfortable with what’s already been said. It’s an invitation to additional debate. What matters to me is halting the bigotry with a disagreement – speaking the firm rejection of bigotry into the space and letting the rejection of bigotry ring – not that the person demonstrates exactly how committed they are to trans rights in that exact moment.

      On an individual basis, it’s certainly also well worth asking your friend how they’d prefer you respond if that situation were to occur again. You can calibrate your response accordingly if the answer is “I don’t have the spoons to deal with every one of those comments and would prefer not to get dragged into a prolonged argument about it” or if it’s “No, please feel free to obliterate them next time – I was so uncomfortable I didn’t know how to respond.”

    3. A Trans Spouse*

      Hexiv, my feeling is that it’s best to follow the target or most-affected person’s preference in how one handles bigotry or abuse, if you can get any idea of what they want. I think this applies from microaggressions through middle ground where someone’s employment or access to services could be affected, up to situations of immediate physical threat.

      If they’re someone you know personally or are close to, maybe conversation you’ve had at another time can give you an idea what they’re comfortable with (and if you’ve never talked about it, maybe after the immediate situation is over, you can, so you will have their perspective for next time).

      If you don’t know them very well, just enough to know they’re a member of a targeted group, maybe their response in the moment will give you some idea what they’re comfortable with: If they say anything themself, you can amplify it or speak along the same lines and tone. If their body language is defiant or angry even if they don’t say something, you might say something direct and assertive, or stand besides them. If their body language is fearful or frozen, you might say something that interrupts the bigotry or abuse in a less-confrontational way, and unobtrusively put yourself between the bully and their target. If they act like it’s no big deal, laugh it off, or otherwise seem to not want to make an issue of it, you can do likewise, or if you need to speak up for your own piece of mind or sense of justice, choose your response among those that reference your principles not the targeted group or the entire issue, like “I disagree,” or “I don’t appreciate that kind of talk, don’t bring around me,” rather than “That’s bigoted against [target group]” or “My friend/spouse/family member is [target group]…” or “[target group] aren’t like that, they actually…”

      IMHO, you should never out another person, draw attention to them as a target, speak for them, or escalate a conflict *on their behalf* unless they’ve made it explicitly clear that they want that kind of support from you. Any of those things can do more harm than good, not only in the immediate situation (by potentially drawing someone unwilling into increased risk), but also potentially to your relationship with the target person (by disregarding their consent or agency by trying to act a savior), or even the effort for justice and equality if your efforts are misguided or go wrong.

      Enforcing your *own* boundaries, or the official policy of an organization or space if applicable), or de-escalating a conflict without agreeing with or appeasing a bigot/bully, are always appropriate if you can manage them. No shade if you freeze or are shocked speechless and don’t manage it every time.

  94. Audrey Puffins*

    Another vote in favour of “I am not the target audience for this” or “I hope you’re not saying this to me because you think I agree with you”. In cases where slurs are involved, especially if they’re trying to justify why they should be allowed to say them, I have also had a fair amount of success with “I just don’t understand why you’d *want* to say a word that is so often used to harm people”. There’s also always room for “I’m sure you didn’t mean that to come out as unkind as it sounded”, if you want the softest possible of options

  95. Kim*

    L.w., I have little time so I haven’t read any other comments but I’m sure I’m just adding just to the chorus: please don’t feel bad that you were rendered speechless. It’s not your fault. You should not have to expect such blatant phobia in the workplace, though sadly I know it happens.
    You are a good person and therefore were unable to respond because it’s not in your nature.

  96. Bruise Campbell*

    This actually just happened to me at my white collar, corporate job! A coworker I don’t know well had the audacity to say something completely homophobic to me, assuming (I guess?) I would agree with her since I’m also a middle-aged Caucasian female, so I looked her in the eye and said “actually I am not the right person for you to discuss this with, my son is LGBTQ+ and I am an ally of the LGBTQ+ community”, then I held up my wrist to show her my pride bracelet.

  97. Bee*

    That’s because this particular role is in fact gendered, and it hangs on the historical idea that white women are supposed to be protected by white men and, specifically, the state/the laws/the police. There’s no equivalent term for men because white men occupy an entirely different role in the way this power is exercised.

    1. Bee*

      Welp, not sure what happened to the nesting here – this was supposed to go in the discussion about the term “Karen” further up!

  98. BoksBooks*

    I’ve had good luck with:

    I need to stop you there, I’m not the right audience for this.


    That will be enough of that now.

  99. ScottGCanada*

    I think you should always say something. If you get fired for it, that’s not an employer you want to work for. A good employer would back you up on that.

  100. Wallflower*

    Blank stare.

    At the end of the rant, say “what?” and blink eyes. Wait.

    Rinse, repeat as often as necessary. They’ll eventually get embarrassed and never do it again.

  101. That Lady in HR*

    Just a HR note here – in most states, workplace harassment and discrimination laws extend to interactions with clients and customers. So you’d be totally justified in talking about this situation with your manager or with HR and asking for suggestions on how to handle it in the future, as it is something they’re legally supposed to protect you from.

  102. CJ Johnson*

    For all commentators, the best way to get better at this is to practice and recognize that this can and will happen in the world that we live in. It’s called bystander intervention and being forewarned is the best thing anyone can do in these circumstance. Practice and prepare to be a good neighbor and accomplice.

  103. Johannes Bols*

    If I could remember to do it, I’d remain silent and stare at them. Say nothing. Just stare.

  104. allhailtheboi*

    I’ve found that saying “sorry, I can’t talk about politics at work” is a useful phrase. To be clear, I do not think trans people’s rights to exist is a political issue – it’s a human issue BUT I’ve had success with that phrase in the past. I agree with Alison that hearing a ‘soft’ answer that doesn’t challenge the bigotry is not really good enough, but sometimes we aren’t in situations where we can safely stand up for what’s right. I’m queer and I’ve used that phrase at work successfully. I didn’t like it, but in context it was the best option.

  105. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I was barely into my 20s when I was working at a language school for adults. A new student came in, and started talking immediately about how he was glad he was able to get an American teacher, because Americans were so much more dynamic than Brits, they weren’t as insular etc. I waited for him to finish his rant and then said, “while there might be some truth in what you’ve said, I’m afraid there must be some mix-up because I’m British not American”. The guy went bright red and started to apologise profusely, but I walked out and told the director that she’d messed up, the guy wanted an American and was so rude no Brit would ever want to work with him. She found an American teacher for him, and he always tried very hard to avoid me from then on.

  106. JelloStapler*

    I’d change one thing- “I don’t agree at all, AND this isn’t something we need to talk about.”

    But I love the “You must be assuming I agree with you. I don’t.” the most.

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