By Alicia James
It started with two Albany transgender women being asked to leave Tom’s Peacock Bar & Grill and some weeks later turned into a small protest in front of the bar after Pride in the Park. At this point, the women are considering a lawsuit and the bar’s owner has offered an apology along with access to a single-stalled staff restroom.
Stemming from a May 31 incident; a Peacock bouncer approached Sativa De Lux on the night in question and, according to De Lux, she and her friend Kamran Ahmed Mirza, a.k.a. Miss Dharma Prada, were asked to leave without further explanation. According to Prada, the bouncer told her they were being expelled for using the women’s restroom once she joined the conversation. “It wasn’t the first time we used the [women’s] bathroom that night,” said Prada. De Lux added, “We had been going there every weekend for about a month. They knew us. We were starting to be recognized by regulars.”
The conversation moved outside where Prada and De Lux negotiated with someone who claimed to be Peacock management. In the course of the conversation, Prada was asked for ID to verify her sex. Prada cited the Oregon Equality Act 2007, which forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The person claiming to be Peacock management unequivocally told Prada and De Lux to leave. “I was so humiliated. There was a line forming, people were watching,” said Prada.
Chip Anderson, Peacock security manager, stated in the bar’s defense, “We only asked that they use the men’s room. Then [she] started arguing with us and that’s when we asked them to leave.”
Prada’s attempts to reach Peacock management went unanswered for weeks. Raelyn Sorrentino Yearout, Peacock owner, finally contacted Prada via Facebook on June 23. Yearout claims she had been unaware of the May 31 incident until she discovered that her establishment’s page had been tagged in multiple boycott posts, as well as posts advertising Prada’s protest. Yearout stated that she apologized and offered to let them use the single-stall management restroom in the future. However, negotiations stalled. “We’ve tried to reason with [her] and tried to work with [her], but the second time [she] threatened the law against us and so I said that we can no longer talk anymore,” said Yearout. Prada went ahead with her equal rights protest on June 28.
Anderson has seen a few incidents like this one over the course of his 24 years working at the Peacock. “One of [Prada’s] complaints is that [she] doesn’t feel comfortable in the men’s room. Oddly enough, we’ve never had a male complaint. When this happens, it’s always from female customers,” he said.
Yearout continued, “The Peacock welcomes everybody. The comfortability of all our patrons is important to us. But what’s to stop any male from dressing up and putting lipstick on and using the women’s bathroom, transgender or not? It’s a safety issue for our female patrons, a comfortability issue for our female patrons.”
Much has changed in Oregon over the past 24 years, though. The Oregon Equality Act 2007 details that employers must provide “reasonable and appropriate accommodations permitting all persons access to restrooms consistent with their expressed gender.” The same rule applies for public facilities, including churches and religious institutions. However, practice of this legislation is mired in gray areas. Basic Rights Oregon, our state’s chief advocacy, education, and political organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has stated that while it “believes this means [a person] is legally entitled to use the multi-stall restroom consistent with [their] gender expression, it is possible that a public facility may request use [of a] a single-stall restroom.”
Because state courts have not addressed this issue, only city and county level precedents inform decision-making at this time. In 2011, the University of Oregon released a Gender Identity and Gender Expression Resource Guide, which “affirms the right of all people to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.” Multnomah County passed legislation in June 2013 that requires gender-neutral restrooms in all new county-owned construction. In March 2013, Grant High School in Northeast Portland became the first public school in the nation to install gender-neutral restrooms.
On June 28, Yearout created a single-stall, gender-neutral option for the Peacock by posting a sign informing patrons that those who need access should ask a staff member for keys. This is presumably the management restroom she offered Prada in conversations following the night of the incident. Basic Rights Oregon has lauded gender-neutral restrooms as a positive step forward, but continues to advocate for use of restrooms that align with a transgender person’s gender expression. Prada echoes this sentiment. “Unisex bathrooms are a partial measure,” she said. “We demand all women be able to use the women’s bathroom.”