The manager of an Adams Morgan restaurant whose bartender wrote the words “GAY BITCHES” on the check for a transgender customer and eight friends who were with her said he immediately fired the bartender for writing the slur and apologized, according to gay blogger Bil Browning of the Bilerico Project.
The New York-based LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal announced in a press release on Tuesday, June 10, that it filed a discrimination complaint against Bistro 18 restaurant and hookah bar at 2420 18th St., N.W., over the slur and other alleged discriminatory actions by the restaurant before the D.C. Office of Human Rights.
Lambda said it filed the complaint on behalf of Amira Gray, a transgender woman who was sitting with eight friends, two of whom are gay men, when a female bartender who’s not identified in the complaint delivered the check to their table.
The issue of whether the bartender printed the slur on the check is not in dispute.
But in a development not common in LGBT discrimination cases, at least two prominent gay activists — Deacon Maccubbin, founder and owner of D.C.’s now closed Lambda Rising bookstore and Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance — are siding with the accused party. Both say Bistro 18 shouldn’t be held responsible for a single employee’s action and that the restaurant has taken all necessary steps to remedy the situation.
The incident took place in August 2013, the complaint states. A Lambda Legal official told the Blade that Gray chose to come forward to file the complaint this week after considerable reflection, deciding that she and her friends were wronged, even though the manager cancelled the bill that came to $152.30.
Lambda Legal’s announcement of the filing of the complaint, which is posted on its Facebook page, triggered a flurry of social media postings highly critical of Bistro 18. Some of the postings called for a boycott of the restaurant.
Browning, editor and publisher of the Bilerico Project blog, triggered a separate flurry of postings by some LGBT activists and others condemning Lambda Legal for publicizing an allegation implying that Bistro 18 was a homophobic or anti-trans establishment that condones discrimination.
The Blade could not reach a representative of Bistro 18 for comment through repeated phone calls and through a visit to the bar Thursday night. The Washington Post and Washington City Paper reported their attempts to reach a representative of the restaurant were also unsuccessful.
According to Browning, Mohammad Elhoda, Bistro 18’s manager, told him his restaurant welcomes LGBT customers, gay employees currently work at the establishment, the restaurant has hosted LGBT events, and it has a strict policy of non-discrimination covering everyone, including LGBT people.
Gray states in her complaint that in addition to the anti-LGBT slur on the check, which she kept and turned over to Lambda Legal, her party was being denied service at the table in which they were seated. She walked to the bar and ordered drinks for her friends, which she brought to her table, the complaint states. No server came to the table except one who delivered the hookah smoking pipe while people seated at nearby tables were being waited on regularly by servers, the complaint says.
Browning reports that Elhoda said service at the restaurant was slow on the night Gray and her friends were there and he intervened to help his staff, providing Gray’s party with at least one round of free drinks to make up for the delays. At least some of the people in Gray’s party returned to the restaurant in the following weeks and appeared to be enjoying themselves, Browning reports Elhoda as saying.
Elhoda also claims that some of the people in Gray’s party yelled insults at the bartender and threatened her after the check with the slur was delivered to their table, prompting the restaurant’s security staff to intervene, Browning reports.
Browning, who appears to be the only media representative with whom Elhoda has spoken so far, wrote in his blog that Lambda should have investigated the allegation of discrimination further before publicizing it on Facebook.
“With LGBT activists and netizens constantly ready to retaliate against any perceived slight and conservative Christians regularly claiming that many businesses are unfairly attacked by activists, what responsibility does Lambda Legal have to ensure that they aren’t damaging a business’ reputation without reason?” Browning wrote. “Should they be held responsible for any harm they cause the establishment – particularly if the bar is found innocent by the city’s human rights commission?”
In a follow-up statement posted on its website, Lambda Legal questioned the accuracy of Elhoda’s version of what happened.
“The statements of the restaurant’s manager, as recounted in the blog as if they were accurate, however, are in sharp contrast to what our client and her friends experienced,” the Lambda statement says.
“Lambda Legal doesn’t make decisions lightly about how to proceed, and gathered confirmation of the allegations in the OHR complaint before it was filed,” the statement says. “Not only do we have the receipt clearly showing the anti-gay slur, but multiple members of a large group of friends who were with Amira at Bistro 18 have corroborated what actually happened that night.”
Maccubbin, who notes that he helped lobby for passage of the city’s Human Rights Act in the 1970s, said in a comment posted with the Blade that Bistro 18 was getting a “raw deal” by Lambda Legal.
“There is no history of discriminatory actions on the part of this business, its management or employees, other than this one incident by this one former employee,” he said. “The business responded appropriately and should not be castigated, by Lambda Legal or anyone else.”
Maccubbin added, “It’s fine for Lambda Legal to represent the complainant, but they should do so within the parameters of the complaint process, not by fomenting unjust and defamatory vigilantism in social media.”
In her complaint Gray said, “As a transgender woman, I was extremely hurt, embarrassed and upset. I felt that the slur was meant as a slap in the face because of my gender identity and expression, my perceived sexual orientation, my personal appearance, and my association with my friends who are or may have been perceived as being lesbian or gay.”