Fire Alarm

At work guys grabbed his butt, crotch and shoulders, says Chris Boone. Co-workers told him to drop to his knees and do what he does best. "Give me the best blow job of your life," he remembers them saying. They brought Vaseline.

Boone, 26, was an oil-spill technician at Garner Environmental Services Inc. making $600 to $1,800 a week. He started as a part-time worker pulling full-time shifts in the summer of '97. When he was elevated to full-time status in February '98, things started getting bad.

Co-workers slashed his tires, keyed his truck, smashed the windows and left notes saying, "Faggots like you shouldn't be alive," he says.

They sent him six Bibles all underscoring that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Other notes told him he's going to burn in hell.

Neil Overstreet, Lynn Garner's son-in-law, who was training to take over the 18-year-old business, told Boone that people like him shouldn't work for Garner, Boone says. Twice a day Overstreet berated him for being gay. Boone says dialogues went like this:

Overstreet: This is a goddamned redneck company, not a goddamned queensville. We don't hire queens; we don't hire niggers."

Boone: "You hired me."
Overstreet: "We didn't know. We don't want rainbows."
On job sites, Boone says, he was treated like he didn't have a dick. "We can't let the fag do that -- he'll get dirty. Honey, why don't you go put on a dress and give us something to look at?"

In October Boone hired an attorney.

"I was shocked," says Gregg Rosenberg, a labor and employment lawyer, describing the first time he heard Boone's allegations. "And I'm never shocked. I've been disgusted, but I've never been shocked."

Boone showed him an October 6 company memo from Jess Carballo, the health and safety inspector, addressed to Lynn Garner and Boone's supervisor. It said Carballo met with Boone, which Boone denies. It also said, "Special care should be given when she is out on job sites where customers can see her, so not to cause problems with company and customers relationship. Cause We have a Homosexual with us....We should work on Mr. Boone's short employment here."

Company officials say the memo is bogus and Boone's allegations are products of his imagination. But Boone has more than stories and a memo -- he has former co-worker Michael G. Franscell as a witness.

Franscell stated in an affidavit that he'd seen the harassment "instigated and encouraged by the supervisors of Garner on a daily basis."

"Somebody without a dog in the hunt came to back him up right from the start," Rosenberg says. "He came into the office and put his balls on the line in deference to doing what's right."

Franscell's affidavit states that on December 2, a supervisor pulled out a pornographic book and said he was going to "convert Chris Boone's 'faggoty ass' and show him what an American male really needs: 'pussy.' "

Franscell said that Overstreet instructed another employee to drive to the airport and pick up "a blond woman with huge tits." He said she "would be wearing a dress with ruffles around her shoulders and that she was extremely good-looking." When the guy asked the name of the woman, Overstreet said it was Chris Boone returning from a business trip. The guy responded, "I fucking hate that faggoty-ass motherfucker....Fuck sugar booty; let him walk back."

"These are only a few of the hundreds of incidents of abuse and disparaging treatment I have witnessed occur toward Chris Boone at Garner," the affidavit states.

Boone says he didn't want a dime from the company; he just wanted the harassment to stop. He liked his job, he was good at his job -- he didn't like what they were saying and doing to him.

His discrimination claim from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was delivered to Garner on February 15.

Boone says he was fired that morning.

Boone's mother says it might be different if he were a flaming homosexual parading around in dresses and wigs, but that's not who he is. He's not an overtly gay guy, so she can't understand why people were harassing her son.

"I'm sure you know the difference between the top and the bottom, and Christopher is the top," says Susie Boone. "He can throw those little hands, but he can be very straight."

Which is what Boone always tried to be at the office. He created girlfriends by bringing female friends to work. They hugged, touched and talked, so folks would think they were "together."

But a few people's gaydar still went off. He says a company official followed him to JR.'s, a gay bar. And out of the office closet he came. His co-workers began taunting him. "Sugar, look at you," he remembers his supervisor telling him. "Look at your hair; you're all messy and dirty."

That was the first time Boone lost it. "You goddamned stupid son of a bitch," Boone remembers yelling. "There's no difference between me and you....I have an attorney, and all this is going to do is fry your ass."

Two weeks later the company accused Boone of stealing a light bar. They searched his car and came to his house. They withdrew the allegations after checking serial numbers on his own light bar, bought before the company ever purchased its missing one.

In another incident, Boone says, a supervisor told him he couldn't plant roses and pretty up the place during downtime between assignments. "All you fags are so color coordinated," Boone remembers him saying.

Boone blew up and called him a fat motherfucker. When another company official carried him away, Boone told the guy he was a ninth-degree black belt, and he'd kill him if he touched him again.

Just wait until tomorrow, the official told him. You're going to enjoy tomorrow.

The police were waiting when he arrived for work. They were there about the stolen light bar which Boone had already proven he didn't steal. Officers didn't charge him.

Crying, Boone called his attorney.
The following Monday, Garner confronted him with allegations that he had billed his personal cell-phone calls to the company.

The cell-phone company confirmed that Boone had billed all charges to his personal credit card and had only mailed the statement to Boone's office.

That's the main reason Lynn Garner told Boone he fired him, Boone says. That, and he was a faggot suing the company, Boone says.

While he told him the last part, Garner's hand curled around the .357 magnum pistol he keeps on his desk, Boone remembers. He cocked the trigger.

"If I was you, son, I'd watch my back," are the last words Boone remembers Garner saying.

Boone ran. When another supervisor asked for his radio and pager, Boone threw the equipment at him.

"Fuck you," Boone yelled. "I'll see you in hell."

Lynn Garner says Chris Boone never got fired: "He quit." And he was never sexually harassed, because no one cared if he was gay.

"It doesn't bother me what anybody's preference is on anything. As long as you do your job," Garner says. "He missed lots of work....All those made-up stories, I don't know anything about them. He never said anything to me."

Garner says Boone was going to be fired because of the cell phone.
"He went over and put his telephone on our bill in San Antonio, and I called him in and said, 'What if I put all our bills here on yours, what do you call that? Is that stealing?' He said, 'I'll quit.' I said, 'Okay.' That's what happened," Garner says. Boone tried to steal, and he got caught, Garner insists.

As for Boone's insistence that all charges were billed to his credit card? "Well, he's a liar."

What about the EEOC discrimination complaint? Did Garner get it?
"Oh yeah," Garner says. "That doesn't have anything to do with why he quit or why he left....It's a bunch of bull to us. Anybody can file anything they want to nowadays."

What about all the guys making fun of him for being gay and treating him like a girl?

"It did not happen," Garner says. He never saw anything."He was just a hand, you know."

Garner says that Jess Carballo's memo was created just to follow company procedure of letting higher-ups know what was going on. He denies receiving the memo, even though it was addressed to him. After hearing the first two paragraphs read aloud, Garner interrupts:

"That is a memo that he wrote himself on one of the computers in here," Garner says. "Jess didn't write that."

How does Garner know that?
"Well, we just know," Garner says. "Considering that I understood he sued his last employer for sexual harassment."

How does he know that?
"Somebody came and told me."

Boone says he has never sued anyone. After graduating from Baylor, he was a paramedic for AMS ambulance service until it went out of business. Then he got his job at Garner cleaning up oil spills and other hazardous materials.

His attorney, Rosenberg, says Boone couldn't have sued an employer for sexual harassment before last summer, even if he wanted to.

The law changed in 1998, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex sexual harassment is illegal. An oil well roustabout sued Houston-based Sundowner Offshore Services Inc. after Sundowner co-workers allegedly picked on him, called him a homo and threatened to rape him.

Rosenberg wants to use that expanded legal protection for Boone.
"I'm gonna make it my mission to take care of that guy," Rosenberg says. There's not much he can do right now; the case is in the hands of the EEOC. It can find cause and file suit on its own; find cause and give Boone the right to file suit; find no cause and give Boone the right to sue; or provide Rosenberg with a right-to-sue letter after 180 days.

On the 180th day Rosenberg is planning to file a lawsuit.
"I can't wait to get these guys," Rosenberg says. "I'm going to videotape it."

In the meantime, Boone meditates in the morning and before he goes to bed at night. He sees himself out in the middle of the water. Just him, plants and birds. Everything's peaceful; no one's hating or hurting him. There's just trees, plants and birds.

Boone has put a rainbow on his car, and he landed a job as a receptionist in Katy. He's planning on going to school on the weekends to become a physician's assistant. But he loves his new job, and he wants to stay for a while. Some people know he's gay, but no one seems to care.

At least they haven't asked him to bend over.

E-mail Wendy Grossman at wendy_grossman@


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