Photo of Cuba Libre by Laura Hayes

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Human Rights Campaign staffer Charlotte Clymer says she was discriminated against while at Cuba Libre in the District last night. A worker at the restaurant asked for identification when Clymer, who is transgender, tried to enter the women’s restroom before leaving the premises. 

The Penn Quarter Cuban restaurant was hosting a “Latinx Noche de Baile” event at the time. Clymer was there for a friend’s bachelorette party.

She describes what happened on Twitter:

I was there w/ a large group of girlfriends. We’re having a bachelorette weekend for my good friend @emilycrockett, and first on our list was a dance party being held at @CubaLibreDC. Everyone had a great time. Lots of dancing and drinking and hanging out with great people.

Near the end our time there, I went to use the restroom with my friend and before I reached the door, an attendant stuck out his arm and said he needed to see my ID. When I asked why, he said that “female” must be on an ID to use the women’s restroom. No one else was asked.

This is a packed hallway in a packed club/restaurant, and this random staff person specifically picks me out to ask for ID. I told him that’s nonsense, turned on my heel, and continued into the restroom. My friend is telling him that he’s making a mistake.

I go into a stall to do my business, and I hear him walk in and search for me in this busy restroom full of women. He is doing everything but opening the stall doors. I ignore him, and after a few moments, he leaves. I do my business, wash my hands, and walk out.

On the other side of the door are the attendant and the manager, who says it’s D.C. law that you must have “female” on your ID to use the women’s restroom. I tell him he’s wrong and there’s no chance I’m showing him my ID. There are people crammed into this hallway. It’s busy.

He insists I need to show my ID, I tell him that’s not happening, and demand to see what law he’s citing. He refuses to show me the law and instead says, “You being in there will make women uncomfortable.” We’re in the way of everyone, and a lot of people are watching this.

I was angry and needed to cool off, so I again refuse to show him my ID and walked out of the restaurant to get my bearings. I brought up D.C.’s law regarding restrooms on my phone and walked in, straight to him, to show him how this is illegal.

He treated me like I was being irrational, glanced over the text and said “that’s incorrect”. He continued to refuse to show this imaginary law he was citing and threatened to call the cops. I told him he should absolutely call the cops. Please do. He then said I need to leave.

I told him I work for the Human Rights Campaign, he’s making a mistake here, and he needs to adjust his course of action. I told him this is discrimination and said he’s being a bigot. He laughed and mocked my workplace. “Oh, I know you folks at [address].”

According to the city’s fact sheet on requirements in public accommodations – gender identity and expression, “facility managers and personnel must respect a person’s restroom choice based on their gender identification or expression.” Read the full text here

 Clymer did end up calling the police and was pleased with their response: 

I could not have asked for a more professional and affirming experience from @DCPoliceDept. The responding officers–all cisgender men–were patient and kind in their communication, assured me I was right on the law, and radioed for their LGBTQ liaison unit to respond.

The LGBTQ liaison’s first question after introducing themselves was: “Hi Charlotte, may I ask for your pronouns?” They took statements, gave my friends and I space to process this (mostly my friends trying to offer humor and hugs), and fully debriefed me on my rights.

I’m told @CubaLibreDC will face investigations by the city’s licensing authority and the D.C. Office of Human Rights, the latter which I have to initiate using the police report that will on file. The officers told me I had a very strong case.

Mayor Muriel Bowser responded to Clymer on Twitter, writing, “I’m so sorry this happened to you. While I’m glad to hear that @DCPoliceDept were there to represent our true #DCValues, we won’t accept this type of discrimination in Washington, DC. It’s not just illegal, it’s against all we stand for.”

Clymer tells City Paper that she plans to take further action on Monday. “I’m going to reach out to the D.C. Office of Human Rights,” she says. “I know a case worker who works on things like this. They can help me process the claim. I don’t want this to happen again to any LGBTQ person in this city.” 

She emphasizes that up until that moment, she and her party were having a good time. “Everyone in establishment was welcoming, our bartender was wonderful and affirming. It’s unfair to the rest of the staff at Cuba Libre, who are wonderful and open, to have to deal with this.”

Finally, Clymer wants people to know that she recognizes that she’s “transgender in a place of privilege,” saying, “It’s not so easy for people of color or folks who might not have financial privilege or people at the Human Rights Campaign who can help.” 

Cuba Libre has issued the following statement in response:

We are extremely sorry for the incident that occurred at our restaurant last night. As a rule, we support safe bathrooms and welcome guests of all gender identifications. We are immediately retraining our entire staff to ensure this does not happen again.  

Update 6/25: Cuba Libre distributed a new statement, this one pledging a donation to D.C. organization Casa Ruby: 

On Friday night, June 22, 2018, our DC restaurant refused to allow a patron, Charlotte Clymer to use the restroom that aligned with her gender identity.  For this I am truly sorry.  We recognize that this mistreatment is in opposition to the laws of the District of Columbia.  It is also contrary to my partners’ and my core beliefs and values.  I pledge that my staff and I will do all that we can do to ensure that such mistreatment does not happen again.  We have directed all DC restaurant personnel that they must respect a person’s restroom choice based on their own gender identification or expression. More importantly, we will be partnering with Ruby Corado and the team at Casa Ruby to train our staff, and to identify other initiatives that will support the transgender community including a contribution to Casa Ruby to continue their important work in the community. With the guidance of LGBTQ representatives, we will work to ensure that Cuba Libre is a safe and welcoming space for all of our patrons.

Cuba Libre, 801 9th St. NW; (202) 408-1600; cubalibrerestaurant.com/en/washington