Watch: Married Same-Sex Couple Say Burger King Workers Harassed, Threatened Them

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday August 4, 2021

The Mendez couple with their young son.
The Mendez couple with their young son.  (Source:Screenshot/ABC10)

A married couple claims they were harassed with anti-gay slurs and threatened by Burger King employees in Salida, California. They've since reported the incident to the police, local news channel ABC10 reports.

The July 24 incident began when Romiro and Leo Mendez stopped by a Burger King on their way home to pick up food they had ordered for their two-year-old using the Burger King app.

"When we got to Burger King restaurant, the manager refused to give us our food saying the restaurant was closed even though they were still open," Leo recounted to Newsweek.

When they asked for a refund, the men said the employees became "belligerent," ABC10 reported.

"He was calling us faggots, laughing at us, flipping us off and said he was going to go get the strap (his gun) from the back," Leo told Newsweek.

Cell phone video of the incident shows employees who were not wearing uniforms, one of whom can be heard using the anti-gay slur Leo specified in his account.

Romiro told ABC10 that the word is "demeaning" and that "whenever it's used ... [it's] never [with] good intentions."

Leo also related that the employee's reference to getting a gun, accompanied by a hand gesture mimicking the shape of a firearm, "made me feel like I wasn't just discriminated, but my life was actually like, you know, where it could have been jeopardized."

At that point, Leo urged his husband to leave, but as the couple drove away the employee emerged from the building and chased their car while screaming at them, the men said.

The restaurant's employees claim that it was the couple who caused the trouble, but the county sheriff's office has found that the couple's allegations warrant further investigation, ABC10 noted.

In speaking out against anti-LGBTQ harassment and discrimination, the men said they took the matter to the police as a matter of principle. "We shouldn't wait for something to happen. We should pursue it when we can actually make an action, not wait until someone has been shot... [or] killed," Romiro told the news channel.

ABC10 noted that slurs are considered protected speech, but that the men being made to feel threatened elevates the situation to a "hate incident" — a lesser offense than a hate crime, but still a misdemeanor.

The couple questioned Burger King's commitment to inclusivity, noting that the brand has signaled its allyship during Pride Month in the past. "They donate, get a tax [write-off], but then are you actually taking action?" Leo asked.

A week after the incident, the couple said no one from the restaurant had gotten back to them — and that they also never received a refund for the order they placed and were unable to pick up.

To watch the ABC10 news clip, follow this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.