Transgender performer Valentine Steaphon was kicked out of Boots & Saddle Drag Lounge, a New York gay bar, after a cisgender woman discovered her in the women’s restroom on Friday night, sparking immediate backlash on social media.
“She told me that I shouldn’t be [in the women’s bathroom] because I don’t have a pussy or a vagina or whatever,” Steaphon, who identifies as trans-genderqueer and uses both female and male pronouns, told Out in a phone interview. “I was just kind of stunned, shocked and surprised that this was even happening at this place.
“My first reaction was to try to educate her that we were at an LGBT bar and we don’t really follow those rules in that location,” she continued.
In Steaphon’s account of the event, which is chronicled in a Facebook post, what followed seems to be something that one would assume to happen in a state like North Carolina where transgender people are legally prevented from using bathrooms they identify with.
However, club security got involved after a verbal altercation and Steaphon’s identity became a footnote.
“This is exactly what the security said,” Steaphon recalled. “He said ‘Well we cater to straight women here so if you are making them feel uncomfortable in the bathroom, you have got to go.’”
The exchange seems to be a part of a larger conversation right now that nods to the erasure of LGBT safe spaces.
After events like the Orlando Pulse Massacre and gay men being roughed up on Riis Beach, it seems that locales where the gay community can feel comfortable expressing themselves in ways that they feel adequately represent them are growing smaller. What’s more, the event touched on interpretations of what transgender is.
“While all of this is happening [the woman’s] friend is yelling in my face that I’m not trans and that I can’t be trans unless I have titties and a pussy” Steaphon claimed. “He was telling me trans women have to look a certain way, basically denying my transness.”
For Steaphon, this was the first time they had experienced this sort of discrimination at a gay bar in New York, though it had happened in Columbus, Ohio where he lived before.
While managers for Boots & Saddle were not involved during the actual event, the company has released a statement on their Facebook page, and believes this event wasn’t about gender identity, but about behavior in the bathroom.
“This morning, we became aware of a situation that occurred last night at our establishment Boots & Saddle Drag Lounge,” they wrote on Saturday. “We are saddened that a member of our LGBTQ community felt marginalized for using the restroom at our bar. For over 43 years Boots has been a champion for the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We expect that every person who walks into our establishment feels safe and respected.”
The bar says they are now updating bathroom signage to be gender-neutral, and reminding all staff that patrons should be treated with the utmost respect and sensitivity.
“Our statement was just to reiterate that our policy has always been that anyone can use any of our bathrooms,” Azam Siciliano, a manager at Boots & Saddle told Out on Saturday, while trying to make clear that the bar does not believe this was an issue about gender.
“From what we understand, this is not an incident regarding whether or not a certain gender could use the restroom, this was about patrons disrupting the bar,” he continued.
While Sicialiano admits that no managers were on-site, the bar is conducting an investigation through their security footage. According to him, all individuals involved in the altercation were asked to leave the venue.
“We work very hard for the LGBT community and with our all of our allies. We do not discriminate,” Siciliano said. “What we’re saying [in our statement] is that we are cleaning up our side of the street so that no one can ever cry wolf and say that something like this has happened ever again.”
Sicialiano says that while the bar hasn’t yet personally reached out to Steaphon, they will once their investigation is complete.