Khadijah Farmer doesn’t wear makeup, has close-cut hair and wears men’s business clothing, so she understands when she is frequently mistaken for a man. What she refuses to tolerate is being thrown out of a Manhattan restaurant for using the women’s bathroom.
That’s what happened to Farmer on June 24 when she, her girlfriend and another friend went to the Caliente Cab Company to eat after attending New York’s Gay Pride Parade. A male bouncer followed her into the women’s room, banged on the stall door and, when she came out, refused to look at her identification and demanded that she and her friends leave.
“I was in there maybe a minute” when the bouncer came in, she told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Thursday.
“I replied from inside the stall, and I told him that I’m a woman and I’m supposed to be here,” she said. “I could see him through the crack in the stall door — that was really frightening. When I came out of the stall, I attempted to show him my identification to prove that I was in the right bathroom.”
The bouncer, she said, refused to look at the proof of her identity and gender. Instead, he took her upstairs to the seating area, made her party pay for the appetizers they’d already eaten, and showed them the door.
“Needless to say, that night was incredibly embarrassing and quite humiliating,” Farmer, a counselor for people with disabilities, said. “I didn’t do anything except go to the bathroom.”
Farmer says she called the restaurant manager the next day to complain about the way she was treated, and was offered a free meal.
She wanted the management to assure her that it would train the staff to deal with people who express their gender in unconventional ways, but said that she was ignored.
With the help of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. of New York City, she filed suit against the Caliente Cab Company.
Motivated by money?
The company did not send a representative to be on air, but issued a statement that said: “The complainant’s representatives would not discuss any issues nor consider the overwhelming evidence contradicting complainant’s allegations, without a prior promise of serious monetary compensation to the complainant. This is their primary interest.”
Farmer and Michael Silverman, a staff attorney with the transgender group, denied the charge.
“Anyone who knew how we struggled to keep our doors open every day as a nonprofit charity would know that we’re not in this for the money,” he told Vieira. “We believe in the cases that we take. We never charge our clients money; we don’t take money from them. We take cases because we believe it’s the right thing to do.”
The transgender defense group never accepts money from anyone it represents, he added.
New York City has a law that prohibits discriminating against people because of the way they express their gender through clothing and speech. Farmer and Silverman said they want similar laws passed on the state level.
“What we really want is to make sure this doesn’t happen to people elsewhere again,” Silverman told Vieira. “In this case, we believe the fundamental issue is, who gets to decide whether someone’s gender expression is appropriate? Is it Khadijah, or is it every bouncer in a restaurant? Is it every employer or manager who says, ‘Well, would you try a strand of pearls? Maybe that would make you look more feminine. Maybe we’d like you more in the workplace’?”
Although Farmer is asking for monetary damages, she said in a pre-interview with TODAY that she’d rather have one dollar and the assurance that businesses would institute training programs for their employees than a million dollars without the training.
“This has happened to me on many other occasions,” said Farmer in a soft voice. “Usually, people just say, ‘You’re in the wrong bathroom,’” she said. “I just make the correction because I don’t want anybody to be under the misconception of me being somebody that I’m not.”