What really happened at a Philadelphia Old Navy store when Queer Eye taped an episode there? And were the Fab Five involved? We have questions.
Let’s begin with the facts. On August 21, the hit Netflix revival of Queer Eye taped an episode for their upcoming fifth season at the Center City, Philadelphia location of Old Navy. Later that day, Monae Alvarado, an employee of that Old Navy location, posted a Facebook post stating that “they brought all these workers from other store[s] around the region… and they were all white.” Alvarado said in the post that the usual employees of that Old Navy location are “nothing but people of color” and that “they had us standing in the back not to be seen.”
Once this post went viral, the responses from Netflix, Queer Eye, and Old Navy were quick to follow. In a statement shared by Decider, Netflix claimed that they’d had “no knowledge or influence on Old Navy staffing choices while filming,” and pointed out that “production featured one female employee, an African American manager, who completed an on-camera styling consultation and also served as a point of contact for our crew.”
Meanwhile, Queer Eye host Tan France actually commented on Alvarado’s original Facebook post, saying, “I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, or overnight, but what I can tell you is that there no way I would ever have allowed production to move POC to the back. I should also mention that I had one person join me on camera, from Old Navy. She was African American.”
Does this mean the finger should be pointed at Old Navy? Not in their opinion. “At Old Navy, we celebrate the diversity of our teams and our customers and foster an environment of inclusion and belonging. We were proud to work with The Queer Eye show to film at our store in Philadelphia and to feature our local store manager on camera,” Old Navy said in a statement given to Philadelphia Magazine. “We also worked with additional employees in the area to help ensure the store ran seamlessly for customers, as the location was open for business during filming, and we expect they may appear in background shots. These individuals are reflective of our diverse employee population. We would never select employees to participate – or not – based on race. That is completely inaccurate and against the values we stand for as a company.”
So what really happened here? Perhaps no one will ever know for sure, but a response to Alvarado’s original post from Michael Lyndon, a Facebook user whose bio identifies him as an assistant store manager at Old Navy, definitely provides fuel for speculation. “If Philly North or Philly South district had the people to assist with your recovery it would have been done,” Lyndon commented. “Neither of the district managers for those areas play that. But we were very very understaffed. I’m sure your district manager asked any close district to help and this is what the territory manager and him were able to come up with.”
When commenters responded asking how this explains the employees of color being sent to the back while white workers stayed out on the sales floor, Lyndon blamed store management, saying, “Some stores are like Chick-Fil-A and others are like Popeye’s.” This analogy is pretty unfortunate from both an LGBTQ and a POC perspective, but Lyndon — who is black — claimed he was only talking about customer service standards, not race.
Low-wage workplaces in which customer service is a priority are indeed a bit chaotic, as a rule. Unfortunate analogy or no, Michael Lyndon is correct to say that some store management handles this better than others. It’s also true that high-level corporate standards can often have nothing to do with what actually happens in one franchise location during one particular sales rush on one particular day — especially when you add the extra chaos of a TV crew filming a show with five celebrity hosts right there in the middle of everything.
It’s entirely possible that one or two Old Navy store managers made an impulse decision to keep POC workers off the sales floor, and it’s also possible that this was a racist decision. But we’ll probably never know for sure. And even if it did happen exactly that way, it’s unlikely that Netflix and Queer Eye staff were even aware this was going on; when you’ve never been to a place before, whatever you encounter when you go there seems to you to be business as usual. Unless you know to look for POC workers being kept to the back of the store, you’ll just assume that the staff at the store is always made up of white people.
In the end, regardless of what really happened, the result, in a lot of people’s eyes, is a stain on the record of Old Navy, Queer Eye, and Netflix. Should you cancel your streaming subscription? Start shopping for board shorts elsewhere? Maybe. But before we close the book on this one, bear in mind the words of Napoleon Bonaparte (or Robert Hanlon from Scranton, PA, depending on which source you believe): “Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.”
Top Photo via Old Navy/Facebook