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New York Pride Day

Lesbian ejected from restaurant

Published Jul 12, 2007 10:34 PM

Khadijah Farmer felt safe. She was in the heart of Greenwich Village, historically a center of New York’s lesbian, gay, bi, transgender communities. And it was Pride Day, the annual event celebrating the LGBT movement and the victories it has won against bigotry and oppression.

So Farmer, a Black lesbian, was stunned when a bouncer at a local restaurant ejected her from the bathroom and demanded that she and her friends leave the premises. Why? Because, said the bouncer, she looked like a man.

Farmer and her fiends had gone to Caliente Cab Company, a restaurant in the Village, after the June 24 LGBT Pride march. While she was in the bathroom the bouncer burst in and banged on the stall door, telling her that a customer had complained that a man was in the women’s room.

Farmer her friends offered to show him her driver’s license as proof. He responded, “That is neither here nor there,” Farmer told the New York Blade. He then ordered Farmer and her friends to pay the bill for their meal and ejected them from the restaurant.

Farmer—together with her mother and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund—held a news conference July 2 conference outside the restaurant, announcing that they had demanded that the restaurant take action to prevent such discrimination in the future.

“I felt violated,” Farmer was quoted in the Daily News. “I really thought that especially in New York City, especially in the heart of the Village, things like this had stopped happening.”

TLDEF has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant demanding that it enforce a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation; train its staff to comply with laws protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and compensate Farmer for the violation of her civil rights.

The legal group won a similar battle against New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority last year. Helena Stone, a 70-year-old transgender woman, had been arrested three times by the MTA for entering the women’s restroom. In October, the MTA settled the lawsuit TLDEF brought on Stone’s behalf, agreeing to allow people to choose the restroom that is consistent with their gender expression, to conduct gender training and sensitivity programs for its employees, and to pay Stone $2,000 in damages.

Farmer’s experience in the Village comes at a time when the area is undergoing gentrification. People of color, homeless and transgender communities have faced curfews and police brutality. Last year after the Halloween parade New York City police beat and arrested several people of color in sweeps on Christopher Street.

And it is in the West Village that a man attacked a group of African-American lesbians when they rebuffed his advances. The young women defended themselves and two men subsequently ran over to help them. At some point in the struggle the attacker was stabbed in the abdomen and subsequently underwent surgery. The women, rather than their attacker, were prosecuted, and in June, four of them—now known as the Jersey 4—were convicted and received sentences of from three-and-a-half to 11 years in prison.

These cases show that despite the many victories of the LGBT community, bigotry and violence have not been eradicated. The struggle has won the enactment in many states of laws that make it illegal for companies to fire, or refuse to hire or promote someone based on sexual orientation. However, only 17 states and the District of Columbia protect gay and lesbians in the work place and only 10 states provide protections based on gender identity.

While New York does not have such a law on the books the New York City human rights law bars transgender discrimination.

There is no federal law barring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi or trans people. In April, members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A similar measure was introduced in 1994 but failed to pass.

June Brown, communications coordinator of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in Manhattan, told Workers World: “The law as it stands protects people regardless of their gender identities to use the bathrooms of their choice. For someone to deny a person this unalienable right to use the bathroom based upon an assumption is an inhumane and ignorant act that should be dealt with immediately.”

SRLP is a legal advocacy organization created and run by trans attorneys and activists who have been at the forefront of fighting discrimination against people of color who are trans, intersex or gender non-conforming in New York City.

Farmer’s experience shows that it is only by fiercely mobilizing to demand justice that laws will be enacted and enforced to prevent the discrimination and humiliation she endured.