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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the New Identity

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Randy Lawrence’s top salesman has just dropped a bombshell: He is planning to undergo gender-reassignment surgery and return to the store as a woman. In this deeply conservative Southern town, what should Randy do?

BY KATE PETERSON

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 edition of INSTORE.

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Top salesperson is transitioning to a new gender

ILLUSTRATION BY KARLA DURANGPARANG

Randy Lawrence truly believed that the day 10 years ago when Dean LaSalle stepped into his office for an interview was a turning point in his business — and he had no problem making that known to the many customers who stopped to tell him what an asset Dean was to Lawrence Diamonds.

Like many jewelers, Randy had grown up in the business. He remembered the school bus dropping him off at the corner near the store that belonged to his mom and dad, and he remembered doing his homework at the back counter. He remembered Dean as a classmate, teammate and casual friend — a guy who’d grown up with him in their old, conservative, church-centered Southern town.

After high school, Dean left town to study marketing in Chicago, where he met his wife and settled for a number of years after graduation.

Things were pretty tough when Randy bought the store from his dad in 1994. Customers had lost interest in the once vibrant downtown area, and businesses were closing one by one. Randy hung in, taking an active role in the Downtown Council and working tirelessly on their revitalization project.

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After a rocky start, Lawrence Diamonds began to grow with the revived downtown area.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

By 2004, when Dean and his family moved back to town, Randy was more than ready to hire a competent, trustworthy “right hand.” For his part, Dean had experience from working as an area manager for a high-end home goods store in Chicago, and he needed a job. The match made sense.

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What he lacked in jewelry experience, Dean made up for with his talent for selling, his common sense and genuine passion for learning. Dean quickly became the store’s top salesperson and over the years, became an integral part of the Lawrence management team.

For years, everything seemed to be ideal until two weeks ago, when Dean asked to meet Randy at the store an hour before opening time the next morning.

Dean started the conversation by noting that what he had to say would be very difficult for Randy to understand. He explained how he had lived his whole life as a woman in a man’s body, and that he couldn’t do it anymore. He told Randy that he was planning to begin living as a woman, and that he hoped his transition wouldn’t jeopardize his job with Lawrence. Dean said the most difficult part — the counseling that helped him come to terms with his identity — was over, and that he was ready to start the physical part of the process — starting with hormone therapy, and ending in several years with gender reassignment surgery. He expected he would be far enough along in the process to begin dressing as a woman in public in about a year.

Randy was stunned. He never suspected Dean was anything but a content man. They’d played ball together in high school. He was a husband and father. Randy knew that he should be concerned about the impact this news would have on Dean’s wife and kids — but all he could think about was his business.

After Dean left, Randy struggled to gather his thoughts. He knew losing his top salesperson and right hand couldn’t be good for the store. He wondered what kind of salesperson “Deanna” (his new name) would be. Randy couldn’t help but think about what would happen in a year, the first time Deanna came in wearing a dress. He was certain that his staff and customers would seriously question Dean’s mental condition. His very religious bookkeeper would find the whole idea immoral. Would any of them put him in a position of choosing between them and Dean?


THE BIG QUESTIONS

What should Randy do?


RETAILER RESPONSES

Liz B.

Florence, OR

Don’t be shallow! I know three people with the courage to become who they truly are and they have a wonderful depth of character and aren’t any more screwed up than the rest of us. God made us all and gave us each unique crosses to bear. Let’s celebrate our differences with respect and joy.


Ira Kramer

Tallahassee, FL

I wouldn’t want to be Randy. Letting Dean/Deanna go would invite a lawsuit. So that’s out! Tell him that you’ll play it out during the changes, and let the customers and their attitudes make the decision as to whether he stays or not.


Todd T.

Bowling Green, VA

I would tell him/her to do what you got to do and then come back in a year and reapply as Deanna. All the trauma would be over and her new state of mind could be noted. Surgery and hormones are going to create a mess.


Richard W.

Provo, UT

I once interviewed a wonderful salesperson who obviously smoked. I couldn’t hire him because 98 percent of my Mormon clientele would regard him negatively, since his habit made him not part of the trusted culture in Utah Valley. Regardless of how Randy feels personally about Dean’s decision, he has to let him go. It doesn’t matter how open minded Randy is, or tolerant, or anything. What matters is how customers will respond. It seems clear that they will not respond well, given their conservative religious culture. Make the right business decision. This isn’t the federal government.


Daniel S.

Cambridge, MA

No reason to think about it for long: Help with the transition. With people like Bruce Jenner doing it, it isn’t exactly like an unknown at this point.


Elysia D.

Historic Spencer, NC

We are located in the Bible Belt and besides our conservative town we have our conservative customers and staff to consider. However, when our first LGBT customer came in at closing time searching for a ring to propose, I reassured him that we had plenty of time to pick out the perfect ring. I asked all the same qualifiers and chatted about where they moved from, how they met and how he planned to propose. After we found the perfect ring we both had a sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t until he brought flowers the next day to thank me and our store for giving him the ultimate experience his mom told him he deserved that we heard the full story. He had been turned away at three other stores in town in true Pretty Woman fashion with a “We don’t have anything for you” attitude. He said he felt hurt, defeated and sorry that he had moved to such a bigoted area. On the way back to his new house he saw us and had to drag himself in for what he thought was about to be another gender-shaming encounter. But he got the experience he wished for. I can’t say he would have had the same experience with each of our staffers, but I can say that our establishment has the right people to get the job done. Having someone who can cater to different clientele is a must. And employees knowing when they need to turn over is essential. Not everyone will embrace Deanna’s newfound expression, but as long as the focus stays on business and is truly about the customer then it should be a win-win.


Allison L.

Myerstown, PA

I would start by consulting with a counselor myself, to help me understand Dean’s perspective. I would then hold a second meeting with Dean to gather a timeline on his changes. Since Dean is planning to change his identity to a woman, I might suggest a leave of absence, and ask him to re-interview for his position as Deanna. I would try to be as open minded and respectful as possible, but at the end of the day, make the decision that is best for our customers, employees and business.


Tony P.

Twin Falls, ID

Being from a conservative area of the country, I can understand Randy’s concern about his business but he should also see the opportunity. Three things stand out to me: The first is that Dean has always done an outstanding job representing the store. The second is that Dean has built very strong relationships with his customers, and the third is that he stuck with Randy through the tough times. When you consider all this, it is time for Randy to reciprocate by standing up and supporting a terrific employee. Sure, you may lose some customers but the key is to use the positive responses to bring in customers who now see you as a caring store-owner as well as those who have alternative lifestyles but didn’t know where to find an understanding jeweler. Doing it right will make Dean even more of a store advocate and probably the best employee anyone could have.


Joe C.

Midlothian, VA

Given the prospect of a lawsuit, it sounds like Randy has a year to educate his staff and client base.


K.B.

Indiana

I think you would have to let him/her go. You can’t let one employee’s choices compromise your store’s business or jeopardize the financial security or beliefs of other employees. Plus, what if other employees quit because you kept Dean/Deanna? Now you got to replace key people and in today’s climate good help is hard to find.


Stacey H.

Chicago, IL

Make lemonade! I’d shake his hand and give him a $500 allowance for some new clothes and with his permission, I’d call the newspaper to get ahead of the situation by doing a press release. I’d start advertising to the LGBT community and if anyone said one harsh word I would mention that I personally would not presume to try to do God’s job by judging others. I would put up a rainbow banner and I would be thrilled to see sales go through the roof. But that’s just me.

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