Security at a Los Angeles bar physically removed a group of transgender women after they were harassed and attacked by a straight couple, according to video and the women’s accounts of the incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime.
Las Perlas, a popular downtown LA bar, is now facing calls for a boycott after footage went viral over the weekend, showing its security staff grabbing multiple trans women and forcefully dragging them outside. The women said they were violently thrown out Friday night after a couple inside the bar yelled slurs at them and physically attacked them.
“It’s been so traumatizing,” Jennifer Bianchi, one of the women whose removal was caught on camera, told the Guardian on Monday. “I feel it was an assault, and it was a violation of my human rights.”
Police have since opened a hate crime investigation.
The controversy comes amid reports of increasing anti-LGBTQ hate crimes across the US, escalating concerns about the murders of trans women, and numerous efforts by the Trump administration to allow businesses to discriminate against trans and queer people.
A group of trans women, gay men and a non-binary person went to the bar together on Friday night after the DTLA Proud Festival, an event celebrating the LGBTQ community in downtown. At some point, a straight couple started harassing the women by repeatedly calling them men, said Bianchi, who was at Las Perlas with her colleagues from Bienestar, a social services organization.
“They said we don’t belong there. They said we were men with wigs. They called us a lot of terrible stuff,” said Khloe Rios, Bienestar’s manager for the transgender program and services. She said they tried to ignore the harassment, but then the man got close to them and ultimately slapped her friend. “We tried to protect her.”
Instead of trying to shield the women from the abuse, the bar’s security then decided to throw out the entire group of eight LGBTQ people, as well as the couple, the women said, adding that the security were particularly aggressive with the trans women.
Rios’ cellphone footage captured one security guard putting his arms around Bianchi as she said, “Don’t touch me like that! I need my shoe.” The guard was then seen shoving her and wrapping his arms around her, before forcing her toward the door.
The video also captured a guard grabbing another woman in the group, putting his arms around her neck and forcing her out, as she said, “What happened?” The guard pushed her out of the bar while appearing to hold her by her head.
“They started throwing us against the wall, dragging us across the bar and being violent to us,” said Rios, adding of the couple: “They didn’t use any force for them.”
Rios said she stopped filming as she was dragged out.
By removing the women, the security had also put them in greater danger, Bianchi said, noting that the man who had harassed them became more violent outside of the bar, grabbing a piece of metal on the sidewalk and threatening to murder them.
“He was violent. Why would they kick us outside? They were putting our lives at risk,” she said.
The man, who has not been identified, continued to shout slurs outside, she recalled. “He said he was going to come back and shoot us all.”
Cedd Moses, the CEO of Pouring With Heart, the company that owns Las Perlas, defended the bar’s treatment of the women, saying in a statement: “Our manager on duty asked both groups to leave as the safety and security of our patrons and employees is our top priority and we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior … The guards removed the guests that were not compliant with the manager’s request to leave and did so in accordance with company policy.”
He said Las Perlas would donate profits from the weekend to Bienestar.
In a subsequent statement on Facebook, the bar apologized to the trans community and said it was hiring a new security company “that has received sensitivity training” and has hired outside counsel to review the incident.
Rios said the bar’s response was inadequate and that the incident brought back past trauma.
“Every single day, I see cases of trans women being discriminated, being bullied or being killed,” she said, noting that the bar left the women in a vulnerable situation where they could have been killed. “We could be having a vigil right now. I could’ve been number 17 for trans women killed this year.” (At least 16 trans people have been killed in the US in 2019 so far, mostly trans women of color.)
Rios said she was trying to stay strong as an advocate and use the experience to push for reforms, such as stronger anti-discrimination policies and better training at bars across LA.
The women filed a hate crime report with the Los Angeles police department (LAPD), and police said in a statement it would “thoroughly investigate the incident”, adding, “Whether in public, or inside of a private establishment, all Angelenos deserve the freedom to coexist in harmony.”
Bianchi, who works as a health educator and case manager, said this type of discrimination and abuse is common, and that people are paying attention to this case because they were a group of activists and not-for-profit workers with a platform.
“We deserve the same respect and treatment that everybody deserves,” she said. “We have fought for our rights for decades to be free.”
Bianchi said she was still struggling to process what had happened. “I have to get up and put on my makeup and just be strong … but I’ve been feeling like I’m still in shock and still in disbelief. I’m emotional.”
She added that it was hard for some of them to even speak about what happened: “This was humiliating for all of us.”