NORTH CENTER — Teens from Lane Tech High School say they left Big Boy Gyros with a bad taste after hearing homophobic comments directed at them from behind the counter.
And one of them went to Instagram in the wake of their experience, recounting what she heard and calling for a student boycott.
On Monday, the group of five students said, they decided to head to the fast food spot at 3541 N. Western Ave. after school for some fries.
“Initially we were going to go to Pi-Hi, which is the restaurant next door but the lines were just too long,” said Jolie Mahr, a sophomore at Lane.
“Two of my friends, who are both male and do happen to be dating, gave each other an innocent hug,” Mahr said. “A normal embrace that you could expect from two people who are friends.”
However, a man behind the counter noticed the hug and began to yell at the students, telling them “no hugging,” Mahr said.
“We were initially confused. We didn’t know if he just had an issue with PDA or like, if we were joking around in too weird a way,” she said. “But then he followed up his remarks by saying if it was a guy and a girl hugging that would be OK, but not two guys — you can’t have any of that here.”
Big Boy Gyros did not respond to a request for comment. When a reporter went to the restaurant to follow up Tuesday evening, a woman behind the counter said she wouldn’t comment.
The students said they left the restaurant without ordering.
“Before even sitting down, we were faced with this kind of harassment. So we all began to leave,” Mahr said. “As we were leaving, he began shouting at us, saying, ‘Get out of here! We don’t want your kind in here!’”
The group of friends eventually chose to eat at the nearby Popeye’s Chicken at the corner of Addison and Western avenues.
“We just sat in this stunned silence for awhile. We were so shocked, having faced that kind of bigotry,” Mahr said.
She went online Monday and posted about the exchange on her Instagram, asking people to boycott Big Boy Gyros.
Her post received over 1,300 likes as of Tuesday.
In the aftermath, Big Boy Gyros’ Facebook page has had people write scathing reviews.
“Today, I learned that Big Boy discriminated against students at my former high school. Students who bring most of the service and revenue to Big Boy anyway and ONLY because of their menu variety or when everywhere else is packed,” Taylor Vergara Wright said, in a review.
Another reviewer said what the students experienced Monday “is unacceptable and down right criminal.”
The restaurant was also getting negative reviews on Yelp after Mahr posted about the experience, with one person saying the behavior of the person behind the counter was “disgusting.”
“The owners allow their employees to discriminate people for their sexuality. It’s 2019, grow the hell up,” the Yelp reviewer posted.
A letter to the school’s community on Tuesday said the incident would “be addressed in person by Lane Tech’s administration.”
“As a school, we are disheartened because our students were treated with disrespect and made to feel unwelcome. As a community, we stand strong and we want to make it clear that Lane Tech does not stand for discrimination of any kind,” the letter said. “We will not tolerate hatred and will not support an organization that promotes hatred of any kind. We support any students, staff and community members that choose to not support Big Boy Gyros.”
“Lane is such an accepting and welcoming environment,” Mahr said. “I don’t want to be giving my money and my attention to a business that participates in that kind of behavior. I have many friends and acquaintances who have told me they won’t be eating at Big Boy’s anymore.”
Mahr added that she doesn’t want the restaurant to be shut down, but feels that homophobic behavior should be called out. The two friends who hugged are both still shaken by what happened Monday, Mahr said.
“They’re still hurt and shocked. It’s a very hard thing, especially since one of them only recently came out, to have to face something for the first time,” she said.
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