A Gay Pride Sunday fracas in which a West Village restaurant ejected a lesbian because of a bouncer's belief that she should not have been using the women's restroom has now escalated into the eatery's attorney questioning the gender of the victimized woman.
At a July 2 press conference, Khadijah Farmer, 27, described how the meal she and her girlfriend Joelle Evans were enjoying at the Caliente Cab Company on Seventh Avenue South late in the evening of June 24 was rudely cut short when a bouncer banged on the door of the restroom stall she was using and demanded she leave.
"I felt humiliated as I sat there as he banged on the door," Farmer said. "It's inconceivable that this could happen in the heart of Greenwich Village."
According to another participant at the press conference, the restaurant was flying the rainbow flag that evening as tens of thousands of LGBT New Yorkers spilled into the neighborhood after the Gay Pride March.
Farmer said that the bouncer never touched her, but stayed right on top of her, "screaming" and demanding that the couple pay their tab and leave immediately. Farmer and Evans had only completed appetizers but were forced to pay the entire bill.
Evans said the couple demanded to see the restaurant manager, but were told the bouncer was acting as manager.
Farmer appeared at the press conference with Evans, her parents Aliyah and John Farmer, and Michael Silverman, her attorney who is the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF).
According to Silverman, Randye Bernfeld, an attorney representing Caliente, has twice said no to demands from Farmer that the restaurant adopt a policy barring discrimination based on gender identity and expression and sexual orientation, that it train its employees in applicable state and city laws regarding the rights of LGBT New Yorkers, and that it compensate the young lesbian.
Silverman said that the amount of compensation TLDEF is seeking on Farmer's behalf has not been specified.
He argued that the incident is a clear violation of a 2002 amendment to the city's Human Rights Law which bars discrimination based on gender identity and expression. TLDEF charges that the bouncer acted in discriminatory fashion in ejecting Farmer because of the way she expresses her gender.
"Discrimination against transgender people, or gay men and lesbians who do not conform to gender norms, has no place in New York City," Silverman said.
But that claim seems to have encouraged Caliente in the belief that there may be a legal end run around Farmer's rights. According to Silverman, Bernfeld, in a second conversation with TLDEF on July 2, inquired as to whether Farmer is in fact biologically female, whether she has any male sex organs, and whether she intends to transition to male.
Silverman speculated that Bernfeld's line of inquiry stemmed from the fact that Farmer is being represented by a trans legal defense group, a conclusion he said reflects a misunderstanding of what the gender expression and identity language in the city Human Rights Law means.
"I understand why they would ask the questions they did," he said, "but the clear sense that I have is that they don't know what has taken place. They have not done any investigation."
In fact, immediately upon being approached by the bouncer, Farmer, who said she has been challenged in the past about her gender, offered to show her driver's license, but the Caliente employee told her, "That is neither here nor there."
Silverman, who said Farmer has nothing to hide, said he answered Bernfeld's questions, telling her that his client is biologically female, that she has no male sex organs, and that she has no intention of transitioning in her gender.
Neither Bernfeld nor Dominick Cappola, an executive with Caliente, which also operates restaurants at Waverly Place and Greene Street and at Third Avenue near 30th Street, responded to Gay City News' request for comment.
Farmer, who works as a counselor at a residential facility for people with disabilities, said she has lived most of her life in New York and when questioned before about her gender was always able to resolve the matter amicably. Evans, however, acknowledged that having her girlfriend confronted in this way "is upsetting every time."
Farmer and Evans, who have known each most of their lives, live on West 43rd Street.
The couple were joined at the press conference by Farmer's parents, who also live in Manhattan.
"We've known she was a lesbian since she was 13," Farmer's mother Aliyah said. "I love her unconditionally, like I love my three sons. I am upset to have to see her go through this."
Silverman said TDLEF and Farmer might eventually seek redress at the city's Commission on Human Rights or file a civil lawsuit, but that for now they are focused on encouraging a response from Caliente.
"This is the moment for communication," he said. "There is never a point of no return, never a point when you can't negotiate."
Silverman said that after an initial meeting with Farmer in which he emphasized how long the process could take and asked if she were willing to pursue the matter publicly, she spent one night considering her options and decided to go forward with TLDEF.
He said that given that the bouncer did not touch Farmer, there is no criminal element in her claims against Caliente.