A bouncer followed a patron into a Greenwich Village, N.Y., restaurant bathroom after the gay pride parade on June 24, and let's just say he did not engage in toe-tapping. His purpose: to check out a report that a man was in the ladies room. As it turned out, the "man," a 28-year-old woman named Khadijah Farmer, was guilty of nothing more than peeing while butch. When the bouncer banged on her stall door, Farmer says, she replied, "I'm a female, and I'm supposed to be in here." Once out of the stall, she offered her I.D. as proof. The bouncer nevertheless threw Farmer, her partner and a friend out of the restaurant -- margarita megastore Caliente Cab -- after making them pay for their appetizers.
When Caliente refused to negotiate, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund -- which fights bias on the basis of gender identity and expression, regardless of transgender status -- sued on Farmer's behalf, charging that the restaurant violated city and state laws against discrimination. Farmer, whose short hair and men's clothing lend her little resemblance to the hourglass silhouette on the ladies room door, has made clear that while rattled by this particular confrontation, she's used to this kind of confusion -- and that for her the goal of the lawsuit is to help prevent the same thing from happening again. (Coverage of the lawsuit on the New York Times City Room blog suggests, naively, that a woman making a stir in the ladies room is some sort of first. I'm sure plenty of "masculine" women would beg to differ.)
City law prohibits discrimination on the basis not only of sexual orientation but also of "gender expression." In other words, your boss can't say, "I'm not firing you because you're queer, I'm firing you because you look queer." TLDEF argues that state law -- which prohibits discrimination on the basis of orientation only -- should also be interpreted so as to protect people from sexual stereotyping. TLDEF has demanded that the restaurant adopt an anti-discrimination policy and train its staff to comply with it and all relevant laws.
It's one thing for a patron, not to mention the bouncer, to have made a sincere gender goof; the real mistake was the business with the I.D. and the appetizers, not to mention the restaurant's stubborn and frankly weird failure to bounce the bouncer and try to make it all go away with some free fajitas. This is all part of a much larger ongoing conversation about gender discrimination, who can use what loo when, and whether we'd all be better off with genderless Ally McBathrooms. Whether or not this particular lawsuit sticks, it appears that the lousy P.R. -- hello, Greenwich Village; hello, boycott -- may in some sense be punitive, and precedent, enough.