Trans Person Kicked Out of Club: For Using Legal Restroom, or Behaving Badly?

The alleyway entrance to Milk Bar.
The alleyway entrance to Milk Bar. Ben Neufeld
Just after midnight on February 26, Xadie James — who identifies as a feminine nonbinary trans person and uses she/they pronouns — went into the women's bathroom at Milk Bar and wound up getting kicked out of the club at 1037 Broadway.

“I usually, in public scenarios, use the women’s bathroom, especially if it’s really busy, because I get a lot of harassment using the men’s bathroom," says James.

The long line for the women's bathroom stretched out the door. James remembers being near the front when a man yelled through the open doorway, saying "something along the lines of, ‘Bro, you need to get out of the women’s bathroom.’”

James didn't realize the man was a staffer, and at first ignored him. When it became clear who the man was, James tried to explain that people have a legal right to use whichever bathroom best aligns with their gender identity. But the staffer didn't listen, James says, even though some of the women in line were also
arguing with him, insisting they weren't bothered by James's presence.

Under Colorado law, individuals must be allowed to use whichever gender-segregated public restroom best aligns with their gender identity. Although the state does not currently require businesses to provide gender-neutral restroom facilities, a bill proposed at the Colorado Legislature this session aims to change that for newly constructed public buildings.
click to enlarge
Milk Bar welcomes all kinds.
Aaron Thackeray
Milk Bar, which is loosely based on the club in the opening scene of A Clockwork Orange, sports a flamboyant industrial theme, hosts goth nights, and is frequented by the queer community. James had gone there “many times over the years,” and says this was the first time they encountered a problem like this.

On February 28, James created a post on Instagram about the incident; by this week, it had gathered over 2,000 likes. Many commenters expressed support, while others claimed they had seen or experienced similar incidents at Milk Bar.

Milk Bar responded by posting a "statement" on Instagram on March 11: “Since our inception Milk Bar has been committed to providing a safe space for patrons and staff of all communities and identities, including all gender identities, sexual orientations, races, (21+) ages, and beyond.”

While the post did not refer specifically to the incident involving James, it included this: “Per Milk policy & Colorado law all patrons and staff have the right to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. In addition to our existing restrooms, we have gender neutral restrooms that will be opening as part of an expanded space coming to Milk soon.”

“They don’t actually address the situation that happened or mention it in any sort of way,” James points out. “To call it a statement is kind of silly.”

“This particular instance involved circumstances that were not made public," responds Tullie Bailey, the bar's manager. "We have not yet publicly commented on it for the privacy of the customer and employee involved.”

But Milk Bar is commenting now. Bailey denies that an employee asked James to leave because they were in the restroom. Instead, he says, James "punched my employee, and that was why they were actually asked to leave.”

That employee, Marquis Fields, is "an African American queer floor walker,” Bailey adds. “The narrative painted that it was this ‘big, bro, Chad security guard' isn’t the case at all. It was Marquis, who was floor-walking. He is an employee that is training to be a bar lead.”

Fields says he confronted James after some female patrons flagged him down to say they saw a man in the women’s bathroom. Fields went over and “observed someone with a beard and beanie,” so he asked James to exit the bathroom.

James and Fields both acknowledge that James initially ignored Fields and instead headed into a stall. “I did walk away from him in the bathroom — after I told him I was in my full legal rights,” says James.

James did not initially say they identified as trans, Fields says, but James and their friends quickly began calling him homophobic and verbally abusing him. “After a while of them saying I was being homophobic," Fields recalls, "that’s when I said, ‘I’m gay, I don’t have anything against you. I am not homophobic.’”

Once he Learning that James was trans, Fields adds, “I said, ‘Okay, I understand, [but] I’m not gonna have that conversation in front of everybody; I just need you to come chat with me right here.’”

After James left the bathroom, Fields says he asked James and their friends to leave, citing disruptive behavior. But James believes he was kicking them out because of their gender.

“I gestured them to the door, the nearest exit," Fields recalls. "I tapped their shirt and said, ‘I need you to exit right here.’ [James] turned around and swung at me and hit me in the face.”

According to James, "When he tried to pull me towards the exit…I tried to pull away, I did pull away, and there was an altercation in the hallway — we kind of flailed about.” James says the only use of force was accidental and calls any assault accusation "100 percent a lie."

“Milk Bar, at its core, has been a longtime supporter of inclusion, everybody from all walks of life, [and] everyone from the LGBTQ community," Bailey says. While Milk Bar has faced an onslaught of criticism on social media in response to James's post, he says that the club has not noticed any decrease in customers.

James's cover fee was refunded through a friend; Bailey says he has since tried to reach out to James but has not connected. “We would love to have an open dialogue with the customer that had the problem,” he says.

According to James, no one from Milk Bar has reached out, but they “would be open to a conversation” if the club is willing to apologize. “If they contacted me, I would talk to them."

Milk Bar does not intend to take legal action regarding the blow sustained by Fields. James, however, plans to file a discrimination claim with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and has pro bono representation through Tyrone Glover Law, a high-profile civil rights law firm.

Helen Oh, one of the attorneys working on the case, says the firm wants to ensure that no other such incidents occur at Milk Bar. "There should have never been a confrontation in the first place," she says, adding that Fields was not legally justified in asking James to leave the bathroom, making the subsequent confrontation irrelevant.

"Milk Bar violated the law when it demanded that Xadie leave the restroom and ejected them from the establishment based on their gender identity," says Oh. "For Milk Bar to now claim that Xadie pushed or hit the bouncer — while Milk Bar was illegally and forcibly removing them — reaffirms that Milk Bar knew that it was discriminatorily ejecting Xadie, and [it is a] ridiculous attempt to evade liability by blaming Xadie for Milk Bar’s own illegal actions."

According to Bailey, Milk Bar will host a training at the end of the month that addresses the incident and focuses on employee relations with the trans community and the LGBTQ community in general.

But first, Denver Communists are planning a “Trans Day of Resistance” at Civic Center Park today, March 17. The protest will address an increasing amount of anti-trans rhetoric and legislation throughout the country, according to the group, which will then lead a protest down to Milk Bar at 8:30 p.m.

The club is aware of the planned action, says Bailey. On March 15, after the protest was announced, Milk Bar posted on Instagram that the club “fully supports the trans and nonbinary community as well as the right to protest.”

James plans to take advantage of that right tonight.
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