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Woman claims anti-gender discrimination at Va. spa

Riya Suising said Spa World manager asked her to leave because she thought she was a man



spa World, gay news, Washington Blade
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.

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  1. Sheldon

    March 1, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    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?

  2. Lourdes Ashley Hunter-Dior

    March 2, 2013 at 1:18 am

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

  3. Yolanda Carrington

    March 2, 2013 at 1:52 am

    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.

  4. Pamela Hayes

    March 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    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.

  5. I. Tohljaseaux

    March 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    A spa is a public accommodation.

    I’m just sayin’….

  6. Ann Mary

    March 2, 2013 at 5:27 pm

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

  7. AngelaChanning

    March 3, 2013 at 9:48 am

    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.

  8. Fausto Fernandez

    March 3, 2013 at 9:54 am

    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.

  9. julia silbergeld

    March 4, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Please sign this petition and share with others on Facebook –

  10. CDog

    March 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

    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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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action



Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January



SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9



David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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