This year, on my birthday, I got accosted while trying to use a public restroom in a West Hollywood bar. As a transgender man, this is not the first time this has happened to me.
I love living in a LGBTQ+ friendly community, but I often find myself wondering if WeHo is starting to forget about the “T” part of the acronym as I continue to face discrimination within our lovely city. I’ve been attacked and refused service by a bartender at one of West Hollywood’s most popular gay bars and given discriminatory health care, and this was not my first time being attacked or feeling unsafe using the restroom. After I started to “pass” as male a few years ago, I stopped being afraid when it came to using public restrooms, yet over the past several months I’ve noticed that fear growing inside me once again. These days it seems I can’t use a public restroom without my heart pounding and anxiety resurfacing.
This year my birthday fell on a Monday, and I was looking forward to being able to celebrate on a mellow weekday instead of fighting the crowds on the weekend. My friend and I decided to end our evening at Fiesta Cantina, which is where the bathroom attack took place. Fiesta Cantina only has gender neutral restrooms, with one door not being able to be closed (clearly meant for cisgender men who just need to pee) and one single stall restroom that locks; obviously, as a transgender man, the only bathroom I am comfortable using is the bathroom where the door closes and locks. After entering the bathroom, it was only seconds before a group of women began pounding on the door, demanding that I leave so that they can have access to the restroom. The door was locked, I was already using the toilet, and I didn’t think too much of it until their boyfriends also began pounding on the door. In a matter of minutes, I went from feeling mildly nervous to full-blown anxious. I knew that this group of people was going to be waiting for me on the other side of the locked door, and I couldn’t stay in the restroom forever. I texted my friend from the safety of the bathroom, letting them know what was going on because I knew as soon as I opened the door there was a chance that I would be in danger.
When I opened the door, I was met with a barricade of women and men who began verbally attacking me, not willing to let me through until they were finished with their tirade, which included a slew of homophobic slurs and threatening me with violence. Several employees witnessed the attack but allowed it to continue and did nothing. On a busy weekend night, I could see them not having time to get security or do anything to help, however, on a slow Monday evening? Whether intentional or not, a message was sent to me loud and clear: Transgender people are neither safe nor welcome here.
West Hollywood needs to do better when it comes to the safety of transgender people using public restrooms. Fiesta Cantina isn’t the only place with an unsafe restroom situation; last time I was at Beaches I noticed that neither of the restroom doors locked, meaning that there was no way to safely and privately use the restroom. What would happen to me if someone walked in on me while I was using a restroom like this? How would things have gone if this was the restroom situation Monday night at Fiesta Cantina? Would I be attacked, or at the very least forced to explain my body to someone that I didn’t want to give that private information to? What about transgender people who live much less openly than I do? The lack of safe restrooms makes me feel like a second-class citizen on a good day, while feeling entirely unwelcome on a bad day. I’m beginning to wonder if I need to plan times to go home to use the restroom while out trying to enjoy time with friends, and the fact that this is something that I sincerely feel forced to consider makes me feel like I am less human and highlights the fact that I have fewer rights than cisgender people. When I tell people that I am from a farm town in North Carolina, they are often horrified and want to hear all of the tragic stories of hate and ask about the infamous bathroom bill, but I face just as much discrimination and have the same lack of public restroom safety in West Hollywood as I did in North Carolina.
As we continue to fight for the safety and protection of all transgender people, and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, I ask that the allies within the community step up. Transgender people risk outing themselves while asking if a space is safe for them to use, so will often suffer silently. You can help by accompanying your transgender friends to the restroom or scoping out the restroom situation for them so that you can let them know if they can safely and comfortably use the facilities.