When does a dress code enter into the realm of discrimination? That's among the questions addressed in a ruling by the Colorado Division of Civil Rights on a complaint from Vito Marzano, who says Denver Wrangler, a gay club that reportedly caters to the bear subculture, exhibited bias by refusing to let him enter while dressed in drag.
In a letter on view below, regulator Steven Chavez finds evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Denver Wrangler and orders the opposing parties to begin mediation -- a determination that thrills Marzano and others who've taken part in a boycott campaign against the venue. Continue for details, photos, videos and the original document.
The letter describes Denver Wrangler as catering to "a gay subculture known as 'Bears,' which are bisexual or gay males which tend to place importance on presenting a hypermasculine image and often shun interaction with men who exhibit effeminacy."
The club's posted dress code states:
• NO HIGH-HEELED SHOES • NO WIGS OR APPEARANCE-ALTERING MAKE-UP* • NO STRONG PERFUMES
*THEMED PARTIES AND HALLOWEEN EXCEPTED. YOU MAY BE ASKED TO REMOVE WIGS AND MAKEUP AT ANY TIME TO GAIN ENTRY INTO THE CLUB
On or about August 31 of last year, the letter says Marzano tried to get into Denver Wrangler but was allegedly refused "based on his gender presentation because he was dressed as a woman, in 'drag.'"
To Marzano, this rejection was evidence of discrimination, while Denver Wrangler maintains that it was simply trying to match Marzano with his driver's license photo -- something that was impossible because he was wearing "make-up, false eyelashes and sunglasses." Marzano counters that he removed his wig and sunglasses to make identification possible but still wasn't allowed entry.
The Boycott the Denver Wrangler website features a cellphone video of another exchange between Marzano and bar personnel, in which the reasons for him not being admitting are debated in passionate terms. Here it is:
In response to Marzano's complaints, Phil Newland, general manager of the Wrangler, tried to explain the club's policies in a Facebook post also shared on the Boycott the Denver Wrangler site. The item stresses that Newland is not "Trans-phobic" and argues that the video "inaccurately tells a portion of the whole story." But while he concedes that gender is "a fluid concept," he notes that "the liquor laws of Colorado are not. One violation can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and...directly impacts the life of a person trying to make a living.
"I support my staff, and I agree with my door policies," he concludes. "It keeps my business safe, it keeps my staff safe, and it keeps my doors open."
Wrangler representatives cited in the letter also maintain that their policy is necessitated by state law, since "properly matching the identification to the person presenting it is the only means by which [the venue] can verify a patron's legal drinking age and protect itself from underage customers attempting to enter the club." Author Chavez points out that the club had two violations in 2013: one for serving alcohol to a minor and another for "sale or service to a visibly intoxicated person."
Chavez's take? "At face value," he writes, the Wrangler's policies "appear legitimate and non-discriminatory." However, he feels that the evidence presented to him -- including the relaxation of the dress code for themed parties and Halloween -- suggests that the venue "uses its policies to select patrons whose appearance is masculine, whether or not they are male or female, for entry into its club. In other words, a female with a masculine gender presentation would be permitted to enter, whereas a male presenting as a female would be denied entry."
Continue for more about the Division of Civil Rights determination letter, including additional photos, a video and the original document. As such, Chavez concludes that Denver Wrangler violated a Colorado statute in regard to "unlawful discrimination in a place of public accommodation" and "orders the Parties to attempt amicable resolution of this claim by compulsory conciliation."
After receiving the letter, Marzano issued a release on the boycott's Facebook page. Here's an excerpt:
Members of the Boycott could not be more thrilled with the determination issued by DORA. This decision helps to protect everyone in the State of Colorado who is gender non-conforming in any capacity from discrimination in places of public accommodation. It also reaffirms the State's commitment to its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, asexual, and intersex constituents by saying loudly and proudly that discrimination against anyone for any reason is never acceptable. The Boycott will continue its fight against the Wrangler until all of our trans*, gender nonconforming, and effeminate family members are no longer mistreated, excluded, or abused by the Wrangler staff.
Also of interest: Wrangler Facebook posts about season three of Where the Bears Are and the Rocky Mountain Leather Alliance are accompanied by a drag-friendly photo from a recent Studio 54 costume contest:
No timeline for mediation is outlined in the letter.
Look below to see a 7News report about the case, followed by the complete determination letter.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.