By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
In the wake of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry’s ongoing investigation into allegations of anti-trans discrimination at the P Club Bar and Grill in Portland, similar accusations are surfacing across the river in Vancouver.
Norma Ballhorn, a transgender Hazeldale resident and current Mizz Gay Pride Vancouver, tells PQ she has been 86’ed from four Vancouver-area bars over the last year because of her gender identity. In most cases, Ballhorn says bar staff told her she was not allowed to use the women’s restroom.
Among those bars is Legends Food & Fun at 7005 NE Hwy 99.
“One of the bartenders said I can’t be in there because as long as I have a penis I am not allowed to use the [women’s] restroom,” Ballhorn says.
Legend’s bartender Cathy Botkin confirmed Ballhorn’s account, though she used male pronouns and “Norm” to describe the circumstances.
“Going back over a year, more than a year, he or she kept using the women’s restroom and we have in our book that he had been told to please stop using the women’s restroom,” the bartender says. “He was making the women uncomfortable.”
Botkin says that Ballhorn came in with paperwork from the Veterans Administration relating to her gender identity and insisting that she has the right to use the women’s restroom. When asked if the bar is familiar with Washington state’s laws pertaining to non-discrimination in public accommodations, Botkin says the bar has “looked into some of this” and that “we do not have unisex bathrooms.”
“It’s not that we discriminated against serving him,” Botkin says. “We have lots of men that dress as women or whatever. We have a lot of homosexuals who come in here. We never ever discriminated against serving him.”
In a voicemail response to a PQ interview request, Legends owner James Van Geyten says that his refusal to allow Ballhorn to use women’s restroom was appropriate and legal.
“I know in Oregon things are a little different, but in Washington, ok… I talked with my attorney and the [Washington State] Human Rights Commission [and] he is not allowed in the females’ bathroom,” Van Geyten says. “A male who is visibly a male to my other customers cannot use the women’s restroom because it violates the other customers, the females’, rights.”
In 2006, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law (HB 2661) protecting people from discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations. While the text of the law does not explicitly mention restrooms, Laura Lindstrand, a policy analyst for the Washington State Human Rights Commission, says businesses should let people use the restroom that matches their gender identity.
“The law doesn’t go into that much detail,” Lindstrand says. “However, we are interpreting the law in such a way that if it involves restrooms, that person is able to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity.”
Lindstrand acknowledges that smaller businesses may not be aware of this policy position, while larger companies such as Microsoft and Nike are well versed in the law.
“We don’t have the resources to do a public education campaign,” Lindstrand says. But if they did: “The message would be that in most situations, the best thing to do is to allow the person to use the restroom they identify with.”
Ballhorn says she has filed a complaint against Legends with the Human Rights Commission and plans to do the same with the other bars she’s been kicked out of: The Icehouse Bar & Grill, Three Monkeys, and The Hideaway Tavern.
To learn more about your rights under Washington’s non-discrimination law or to file a complaint, visit hum.wa.gov.