I’m From Charleston, WV.

by Jason Duncan

Satellite overhead image of West Virgina from Google Earth 2022

I had recently completed a year long course for medical coding and billing. I felt fairly confident. After many applications and interviews, I had landed a good paying job with a durable medical equipment company. The atmosphere was casual. A bit uncomfortably casual. There was the woman who recently had gastric bypass and made everyone aware of her eating and bathroom habits. The sexually promiscuous 60 year-old woman who shared details. The Christian woman who proclaimed Harry Potter books were trash. My supervisor (also the one who interviewed and hired me) who desperately wanted to be everyone’s friend. Bolstering down the hall was the pretentious owner’s wife who commented on my cologne, claimed to be a former model, and thought the daily arrival of a new Coach bag made her upper class. Professing, “I can’t live without this”, in regards to her supersized Starbucks latte made her feel classy. Then there were the two girls who played on MySpace all day and I worked directly with.

I was not catching on with the computer system very well and I kept asking for more training. I felt like I was not doing a good job. Worried that I wouldn’t return, my boss left a note on my computer reassuring me how much they needed me and told me I was doing fine. I never felt comfortable telling new people about my personal life, my romantic life. I usually got to know people first and weeded them out. However, when someone asked this time I decided to just casually tell her about my partner of 5 years. Seemingly, there were none of the repercussions I had previously feared about such a confession. The next day, my boss was asking me about my partner and what exactly he did. He was the Director of Nursing for an Eldercare company in which this company did business with. She also asked if anyone else from my training course might be looking for a job.

Then the next day, at 3pm I was called into a meeting with my boss. She informed me with little eye contact that they must let me go. She claimed that they felt I had made too many critical errors. When I asked what they were, she could not point them out. When I asked why I didn’t receive additional training when I asked for it, she could not explain. My final check was handed to me with all current hours up to 3 o’clock that day. The higher ups had already left for the day. They would not return my calls. I wanted an explanation. I couldn’t make any sense of it. I played out everything, every conversation back in my head. I asked my friends if they could make sense of it. One suggested it was discrimination. It hadn’t donned on me. My co-workers and employers seemed so laissez-faire about it. However, it started to make sense. They were asking about others in my course to replace me. If they felt I was doing a bad job, why would they want to hire from the same pool? They were asking about my partner’s position to determine if firing me could potentially damage a business relationship. I felt so violated. Like I could never open up so easily again about who I was. When I contacted an attorney, he told me, “They can discriminate against you for being gay all they want to.” This is because sexual orientation is not a protected class under West Virginia state law. I had lost my job and my self-esteem. With new experiences such as going back to school, I have been reserved and hesitant in sharing my truth.  I reverted to that closed off teenager who feared retaliation for being gay.

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