It started on the night of Thursday July 16, when Billie Matthews, who identifies as a transgender woman, was thrown out of a bar after being asked to leave the women’s room. The Cathode Ray serves the Allentown area of Buffalo, in a neighborhood frequented by members of the LGBT community. It is a place that is known to be gay-friendly.
Exactly what happened is up for debate. Matthews claims she was putting on her make-up when she was ordered out of the women’s room by a security guard because he identified her as male. She protested but the guard insisted, so she sought the owner, John Little. The owner also stated that Matthews was not a woman, and told her that if she was unhappy with her treatment, she should leave the bar. Matthews told Mr. Little that the rainbow flag hung nearby promises an LGBT-friendly space, and is deceptive if he discriminates against transgender people. In response, Little ordered the security guard to escort her out.
Little remembers the event differently. A post on the bar’s Facebook page claims Matthews was with another individual “occupying the same stall of a restroom at the same time”, which is against the bar’s policy. According to a report in The Advocate, the bar’s lawyer has since made a statement that casts doubt on whether the bar still stands behind that version of events. At least one witness left a Facebook post supporting Matthews’ story. “After a night of merriment,” the post states, “I was disappointed and outraged when I saw a transgendered woman thrown out of the Cathode Ray Buffalo — a gay bar — for using the women’s restroom.” A reply attributed to the bar owner invites that witness to “…find another place to patronize.”
Four nights later, on Monday July 20, the area transgender community began a protest across from the bar. A local blog estimated the turnout to be more than two dozen. The protesters chanted “Trans women are real women”, after which a group of gay male patrons at the bar reportedly shouted “No.”
I’m sure many who have been involved in the frequent bickering between the Trans and the Gay communities will see my shock as hopelessly naive. Clearly, even in 2015, many gay men see no problem with denying our identities. Perhaps in the wake of the Obergefell ruling, they find it easy to forget when they were the oppressed and misunderstood ones, and had to fight tooth and nail for their own identities. For whatever reason this happened, denying a transgender woman (or anyone of any gender) their identity is evil. I am dismayed that I even need to explain how dehumanizing, cruel, and indefensible it is, but it would appear there are some who still need us to justify ourselves.
I’m hoping for a swift apology on the part of the bar and its patrons and an acknowledgement from them of our right to our gender. An emphatic denunciation would be helpful from the L,G, and B parts of the LGBT rainbow of the sort of behavior that was reported in Buffalo.