March 1, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Woman claims anti-gender discrimination at Va. spa
Riya Suising, gay news, Washington Blade

Riya Suising (Photo courtesy of Riya Suising)

A California woman has claimed a manager of a popular Fairfax County spa asked her to leave because she thought she was a man.

The Fairfax Times first reported earlier on Friday that Riya Suising of Palo Alto, Calif., decided to visit Spa World in Centreville last November while she was on a business trip in the D.C. area. She told the Washington Blade she was in a female bathing pool when a manager approached her, said she was a man and asked her to leave.

“I have slightly wider shoulders and I think that’s what she commented on,” Suising said, noting she is a marathon runner with an athletic build. “I think that’s how other customers saw me as well.”

Suising said the manager showed her a letter “written and signed” by five other customers who were in the spa at the same time she was there. She added she put her clothes on and went into her office where she showed her identification that contained a female gender marker.

“That didn’t satisfy her,” Suising said. “She said she’s very sorry, she has to do that to take care of her other customers.”

Suising said she tried to file a complaint with the Virginia Human Rights Council in December, but was unable to do so because the commonwealth’s non-discrimination law does not include gender identity and expression. She said a second complaint that claims discrimination because of ethnicity and sex is pending.

Suising also filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in January.

Spa World owner Sang Lee confirmed in his Feb.16 response to it that management “asked the customer to leave the facility, for the safety and the comfort of the other customers, and also to promote a healthy reputation for our business.”

“It is our policy not to accept any kinds of abnormal sexual oriented customers to our facility such as homosexuals, or transgender,” he wrote. “We strongly enforce this policy for the safety and the comfort for (sic.) our customers, and also to promote a healthy reputation for our business. Spa World accepts family-oriented customers many times with young children. Also, for the safety and the comfort for young children at Spa World, we strongly forbid any abnormal sexual behaviors and orientation in our facility.”

Lee acknowledged “the controversial issue of homosexuality and transgender,” but reaffirmed Spa World’s policy “to not accept them.”

“We did our best to communicate to the customer in proper manner,” he wrote. “Once again, we feel sorry about this incident. I hope the customer can understand our position.”

Spa World, gay news, Washington Blade

Spa World (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Riea Choi of Spa World denied Suising’s allegations in a brief interview with the Blade on Friday afternoon.

“We don’t discriminate against people,” she said. “The [Fairfax Times] article is wrong.”

The spa categorized Lee’s statements to the Better Business Bureau as “a communications error” in a subsequent post to its Facebook page.

“What was meant to be the point of that letter was, SpaWorld does not condone of homosexual as well as heterosexual misconduct and actions,” it reads. “We do not care about the sexual orientation of any customers; we simply ask that you keep to yourselves and refrain from having sex in a public bathroom.”

Suising said she would like to see Spa World change their policy.

“If they do that I would love to go back again and be a good customer and spend my money there if they welcome me,” she said.

Equality Virginia also urged Spa World to change its policy in an e-mail to supporters.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

13 Comments
  • I’m curious whether they exercise the same discretion with the morbidly obese or those with physical deformities. Here’s a woman who, by all accounts, is extraordinarily physically fit, and because of that she’s deemed not feminine enough to use a spa? And labelled abnormal? So who at the spa sets the standard for normal that their patrons have to satisfy? And are potential customers made aware of this before they show up or before they enter?

  • Lourdes Ashley Hunter-Dior

    Why would anyone want to go back… Its not the only spa on the block baby….

  • Yolanda Carrington

    Even if homophobic/transphobic discrimination is legal in Virginia (Hey advocates: is it?), owner Sang Lee should know way better than to admit IN WRITING that his company discriminates against LGBTQ people. You're really going to tell the BBB that you don't "accept any kinds of abnormal sexual oriented customers?" For real? His lawyer must LOVE him right now.

  • The Spa World management sound like complete jackasses, openly discriminating against gay and lesbian people. And accusing a woman of being a man because they thought it. HUH? How do you go up to another person and tell them that they are not the gender that they represent? Did they stop to consider that they could have been wrong? And the woman showed them her identification. I'll bet those imbeciles have done something like this before. I'm sure they don't give a damn about losing business from GLBT folks, but what about liberal straight people, who truly have a laisseiz faire attitude about life? What about people who are the mothers, father, sisters, cousins of GLBT folks. That company's policies may lead to its destruction. Lastly, why in the world would the customer who had been egregiously insulted would want to go back there, giving them her hard-earned dollars? She sounds as ridiculous they do.

  • A spa is a public accommodation.

    I’m just sayin’….

  • Too bad the management of the place aren’t encouraged to exercise their brains! That is, of course, if they have any.

  • There are many gay men who patronize Spa World, who should really rethink that, given the hostile environment. Another thing is if guys are going for some sort of action, they really risk being arrested, especially with subtle and not-so-subtle postings on Craig’s List.

  • Fausto Fernandez

    SpaWorld is tops as a spa. I go there for my arthritic knees, and since the jacuzzi pool is kept at a reasoble temperature of 95-98 degrees I can sit in it for hours, which is what my knees need. Are there gays there? Yes. But there’s no privacy anywhere, so there’s no hanky-panky. As a matter of fact I doubt very much that heteros there are aware that there are gays in the premises; I know there are gays because that’s what gaydar is for.

  • julia silbergeld

    Please sign this petition and share with others on Facebook – http://www.change.org/petitions/spa-world-stop-discriminating-against-lgbtq-customers.

  • The Washington Blade, in the name of political correctness, has left out a significant part of this story. They describe the patron as a woman, when in fact she was BORN A MAN. She is transgendered. The Washington Post and Channel 7 made this fact clear and it dos change the story. Reading the Blades story, one would think that a muscular looking woman was put out of a spa, which iwould be outrageous. What happened was that a person born as a man was put out of the women’s part of the spa–there’s a difference. Apparently, the owners and patrons were not as convinced as she was, that she looks like a woman. Just because she has a California license describing her as a woman does not mean that she automatically appears to be a woman to the average person. Transgendered people should be respected, but they need to understand that not everyone is going to recognize the gender identity that they have adopted. If the spa owners honestly thought that she was a male, then their actions were justifiable. They can’t allow men to be in the women’s section. It is a difficult issue in situations such as locker rooms, spas and gyms where nudity and privacy issues come to the forefront.

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