04 11 / 2013
[Triggers: transphobia, police, restroom access, comparison to rapists]
I, Lily Lambda, a transgender woman and leathergirl, was kicked out of Holy Cow, in San Francisco, on Folsom Street, in gayborhood, in the leather district, during October 2013, after unsuccessfully summoning the San Francisco Police Department to protect me. I spoke with Holy Cow management after the fact. Parts of the incident were recorded by cell phone camera.
On October 24, 2013 I was socializing at the Eagle with a friend. We decided to head over to Powerhouse. On the way we noticed Holy Cow. We’ve been there several times before, including during the Folsom Street Fair. It’s a mostly straight early-20s crowd, but I’d always been treated with respect by the doorman and coat check. Plus, I like the layout of their dance floor and patio.
After dancing for a while I stripped down to my usual skimpy leather top. Yeah, it accents the breasts. It’s hot. I was immediately told by a guard that I had to put my vest back on. That surprised me, since I’ve worn that exact top in there several times before. Still, I had no issue putting it back on. They’re entitled to enforce a dress code, and I had no evidence that they were selectively enforcing it against me. I brushed off the guard’s rude treatment, put my vest on, and kept dancing. I only bring this up to demonstrate that the security guards were absolutely clear that I was presenting in typical women’s attire. I don’t know of any magic test to differentiate cis women, trans women, cross-dressers, and others, but believe me, this was about the most unambiguous presentation you can imagine.
After dancing for a while we decided to continue on toward Powerhouse. I wanted to use the restroom at Holy Cow first. I proceeded to the women’s restroom, the only restroom I ever use since transitioning. I asked my friend to come in with me — it was a multi-stall restroom — because I was afraid of problems from the guard that had hassled me earlier. Sure enough, within a minute of entering I heard a man holler “YO!” at the top of his lungs. I feared the worst, but hoped it was nothing.
As I was finishing washing my hands, but before my friend reached the door, the door opened, pushed by a male security guard and a female employee. He immediately began to tell us that I have to leave, it is the women’s restroom, etc.
Thus it began. I’ll point you to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Compliance Rules and Regulations Regarding Gender Identity Discrimination. All quotes are from there. Italics added.
2. DEFINITION OF GENDER IDENTITY […] the San Francisco Administrative Code and […] the San Francisco Police Code define “Gender Identity” as “a person’s various individual attributes as they are understood to be masculine and/or feminine.” Gender Identity therefore includes discrimination based upon an individual’s self-asserted gender identity and/or gender expression whether or not different from that traditionally associated with the person’s actual or perceived sex as assigned at birth.
A. BATHROOMS/RESTROOMS: Individuals have the right to use the bathroom/restroom that is consistent with and appropriate to their gender identity. […]
So yeah. I have every right to use the women’s restroom. In fact, even if I wasn’t clearly presenting as a woman, I’d still have that right. I informed the security guard that I’m a woman. A transgender woman. His harassment would not abate. He kept repeating ad nauseum that it is the “female restroom,” and that I could use the “male restroom” or “unisex restroom.” I told him I had no intention of using anything but the women’s restroom.
At that point I retreated back into the bathroom. If you saw this security guard, his size, his outfit, his attitude, yeah … you’d be intimidated too. He was clearly using his masculinity to intimidate. I get attacked (verbally and physically) for being transgender on the regular, so I was especially terrified.
Maybe a minute passed, during which I discussed with my friend what we might do about the situation. How to get out without being “manhandled” was my first concern. My stuff was still checked at the coat counter and would have to be retrieved. At that point a different guard, joined by the first guard, opened the door. He kept on repeating the “female restroom so you have to go” mantra, and we both kept telling him that I’m a transgender woman and he cannot kick us out. That didn’t faze him one bit.
He then walked into the women’s restroom in an effort to eject us. Before he could get close to us I told my friend to call 911. She did. We informed the dispatcher what was happening and asked that the police be sent to protect us.
The guards began to increase their harassment. A third guard arrived. While we waited for the police to arrive, one of the guards, presumably the most senior, repeatedly entered the women’s restroom. He told us we had to go. He told us that I could use the unisex bathroom. He told us we were “trespassing.” He wouldn’t stop verbally abusing us and intimidating us, even knowing the police had been summoned.
4. EXAMPLES OF UNLAWFUL GENDER IDENTITY DISCRIMINATION
C. PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS: Includes but is not limited to refusal to provide goods or services, disparate treatment, verbal and/or physical harassment, intentional and deliberate misuse of appropriate forms of address[.]
At that point I began to fear he would try to physically harm me. We sat on the floor of the bathroom. I figured hey, if he’s going to assault us, he’s going to do it anyway. We’re outnumbered and outsized and I don’t want any accusation that we were a threat. We remained on the floor until the police entered.
During one of his trips inside the bathroom to harangue us he began demanding my ID, saying it could resolve the matter. Yep, you guessed it:
B. VERIFICATION OF GENDER: Requiring proof of an individual’s gender is prohibited, except in situations where all persons are asked to verify their gender.
After 15 or 20 minutes the SFPD arrived. They spoke with the security guards first. At that point they came right up to me and started talking at me. That’s right. They didn’t introduce themselves. They didn’t ask what was going on. They didn’t ask for our side of the story. One of the police officers started repeating the guard’s line: I can use the unisex restroom.
I informed the police officer that what the business was doing is illegal under San Francisco law. I invited him to protect us. At that point he backed off a little and asked what we wanted. I told him we were scared of the guards’ behavior and asked to be safely escorted to the coat check and out. They did so. We recorded both of their names and badge numbers.
We went home. I was so traumatized I couldn’t speak. Panic attacks, intense fear. I was literally shaking and had to get in the bath tub to warm up. I had been attacked. I was dehumanized. My body was objectified. My gender was rendered illegitimate. And like so many trans women before me, the police did nothing to enforce the law or protect me.
This is why gender identity laws exist!
Introduction and History of Gender Identity Protection in San Francisco
In 1995 San Francisco included “gender identity” as a protected class to its nondiscrimination ordinances in response to a 1994 public hearing held by the Human Rights Commission. At that hearing, Supervisors and other City officials learned that there are transgender people in every race, class and culture, and of every age, ability, gender, and sexual orientation. The Supervisors and other City officials also learned that transgender people are subjected to severe discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations and that no local, state or federal law provided protection and no recourse existed when discriminatory actions occurred.
Therefore, the San Francisco Administrative Codes and Police Codes were amended to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Since the law was changed, the Human Rights Commission has continued to receive complaints from people who are not hired, not promoted, are fired, denied housing, denied services, and denied access to facilities, and are discriminated against because of their gender identity. These guidelines are intended to assist City Departments, agencies, businesses, and organizations in complying with the law.
[…] While any given individual’s gender identity or expression may make other people uncomfortable, refusing to treat transgender or gender-variant people in the same manner as other people is a violation of San Francisco laws.
I was fucked up for days after the incident. I still am in many ways. I was afraid to even leave my apartment. Not to imply I even felt safe in my apartment. If I can be treated that way in a business, without any police protection, what exactly makes me safe in my own home? Still working on that one.
A week after the incident I decided I wasn’t going to take it lying down. I had already called the Transgender Law Center on Monday and left a message. On October 31 I left a message on Holy Cow’s voicemail. On November 1 I sent them a message on Facebook.
On November 4 I decided to send them a formal written notice of the event. I videotaped myself dropping off the letter in their street mail slot so receipt could not be denied. While I was doing so a man approached, keys in hand. He told me it would be one of the last pictures of the cow, because the business was being sold. He described himself as the owner. I wouldn’t read too much into that, since it’s my experience that managers are in the habit of describing themselves as owners when problems arise.
I described the incident to him. I began to show him the San Francisco gender laws. He interrupted me almost immediately.
He didn’t seem to want to take any responsibility. He told me the guards were “better than most” but “still guards.” All he seemed to care about was first, the possibility that I may derail the business sale, and second, how much I’m “trying to get out of it, monetarily.” Yeah, I kid you not.
He also went into a long cis-splanation of how it wasn’t the guards’ fault. Did they even know I was trans? After all I look like a guy! There are rapists out there! You have to understand! Of course he’s “mostly on [my] side.” Thanks guy!
I told him he was being ignorant. I told him he was making things worse for the business. I told him that transgender and leather politics on Folsom doesn’t accept this kind of crap. To quote Walter, am I wrong?
He launched right back into his rapist speech, telling me I had to understand. I repeatedly told him I wouldn’t discuss the matter any further, and that he should actually read my letter and use the contact information therein. He didn’t respect that and kept lecturing me on how it is. I just walked away. Straight to this keyboard.
Thank you to my friends who have supported me over the last two weeks. Thank you to TransThrive for advising me to contact the SFPD’s Transgender Task Force. I have done so and await a reply.
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