It was supposed to be a peaceful evening. A group of coworkers from Bienestar Human Services — a health care advocacy organization focused on LGBTQ+ and Latino communities — gathered at Las Perlas, a restaurant and bar in downtown Los Angeles, to grab something to eat after the opening ceremony of DTLA Pride. After a hard day of working the festival, they hoped to unwind with tacos and cocktails.
The serenity was interrupted, however, when a couple began shouting transphobic slurs at the group. When the altercation became physical, and security was brought in, the couple was allowed to leave peacefully. Video recorded of the incident, which has since gone viral, in contrast shows security violently grabbing a trans woman and throwing her out while she screams, “Don’t touch me like that.”
A second woman seen in the video was placed in a chokehold as she was escorted out of the bar.
As police investigate the incident as a hate crime, Pouring With Heart, the hospitality company which owns Las Perlas, has apologized and pledged to hire new security staff. Its CEO, Cedd Moses, said the situation was “rare and unfortunate” and claimed Pouring With Heart would “continue to value and celebrate the diversity of the downtown Los Angeles community.”
But after a group of protesters gathered outside Las Perlas on Saturday to call for accountability, Khloe Perez-Rios, the woman who recorded the video, claims the company’s response isn’t enough to answer the LGBTQ+ community’s concerns about safety in its spaces.
Rios spoke to Out about what happened and what the bar’s owners can do to create an environment where LGBTQ+ people don’t have to fear violence and harassment.
Out: Can you tell me from your own perspective what happened?
Khloe Perez-Rios: We were discriminated [against] by patrons at the bar. They came to our table and they began yelling transphobic slurs. They were saying in Spanish that we were not women, that we were men with wigs on, that we did not belong there, and that we should leave. We ignored their comments and went back to our conversation.
The whole thing got out of hand when they slapped one of my friends who was at the table with us. When they got physical with her, we all got up and protected her. We all stayed together to try to protect each other from this man and woman who tried to attack us. The man was the one who was yelling transphobic slurs, but the woman was the one who started to become really physical. She wanted to hit me. Some of my coworkers tried to push her away. By that time, the security guards had already arrived. They asked the man to remove the [woman] or to start walking out, but they didn’t use force to remove them.
At that point, we all thought, “We’re safe. We’re good.” But it wasn’t that way. [The security guards] started grabbing us and throwing us against the wall, and they started grabbing my friends and dragging them through the bar all the way to the door. I was the last person to be thrown out by security, so when I finished [recording] the video, a security guard walked toward me. He grabbed me and threw me out the door like I’m trash.
What happened after the security guard threw you out of the bar?
Once we were outside, they left us outside with our aggressors. They were throwing metal things from the sidewalk and yelling, “I’m going to go get my gun from the car and I’m going to shoot you all. I’m going to kill you.” The security guards are not doing anything. They’re there standing. It’s really hypocritical of them to put out a statement saying their main goal is to keep patrons safe, but they didn’t do that. They failed to do that with us. Instead of protecting us, they threw us out.
When the aggressors heard the sirens of police coming, they left the scene. Obviously, we didn’t want to deal with them anymore so we didn’t chase them. When the police came, we filed a complaint. They reported it as a hate crime, based on what they told us.
What did you do after filing a police report?
As an advocate working with the community, I see trans women being discriminated [against] all the time. I see gender nonconforming people being called transphobic slurs. I see trans women being killed. One of my first instincts was to record everything, secondly file a police report, and then third, to mobilize the community and to let them know, “Hey, there’s an issue in downtown L.A. that we need to address.” We think it’s a safe city for all gender nonconforming and queer individuals, but it really isn’t.
My first thought was to mobilize the community and then do a protest and a rally, and that’s what we did. I’m very happy with all the support that we had from all community leaders who showed up and the community that was there, because it was a really powerful rally.
Can you tell me more about the rally?
Over 100 people came. We had community leaders join in and give their perspective. We addressed the need for policies to be put in place to protect human and civil rights for trans women of color. We also addressed the fact that we need to raise more awareness about the fact that human and civil rights are for everyone — not just specific groups or groups with privilege but every single vulnerable group in this country.
What brought you out that night? Were you out celebrating something? I’m curious as to what the night was supposed to be like.
We work for Bienestar Human Services. Everyone who was at the bar — with the exception of one volunteer — was out working that day at the opening ceremony DTLA Pride. I had just finished speaking on stage about the 16 transgender women who have been killed this year. We had a moment of silence, and it was so emotional. We had just finished a long day of work. Many of us had not eaten that day and we wanted to grab something quick. That was the place we went to.
An hour after speaking about trans women being killed, I’m facing that reality — of fearing for my life and being threatened by someone. We were there to decompress after a long day of work and grab a bite. We wanted to just have something to eat.
Having just given a speech about the epidemic of violence against trans women, what did it feel like to find yourself suddenly under attack?
I felt defeated. I felt like everything we worked for is failing. Didn’t we just celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots? I thought we were moving forward, but we haven’t. Nothing has changed. There’s a lot of work that we need to do. It was a feeling of sadness for the community.
What do you hope comes out of this incident?
I hope that Las Perlas and the company, Pouring With Heart, that owns so many bars in downtown L.A. focuses on making changes in all the bars that they own, training all of their staff to react when they experience a situation like this, and working with transgender, nonconfirming, and queer populations. When you put out a statement that says you fired your management team and you’ve changed the security at Las Perlas, what about the rest of the bars? Are they secure for me to walk in? Are they secure for anyone in the community to walk in?
I hope that this is a step toward making sure that every single bar in the city is safe for everyone in the community.