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.”
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.