A security guard at the Giant Food store at 3rd and H streets, N.E. spent the night in jail after D.C. police arrested her on a simple assault charge on Wednesday, May 18, for allegedly forcibly ejecting a transgender woman from the store because she used the women’s bathroom.
A police report says the guard, Francine Bernice Jones, 45, allegedly called trans woman Ebony Belcher, 32, a “he/she faggot” and demanded she leave the women’s bathroom located near the store’s main entrance.
The report says that when Belcher left the bathroom and started to walk toward the main area of the store to visit a Western Union outlet located within the Giant store, Jones blocked her path, pushed her toward the exit door, and gave her “a final push outside the door.”
Belcher told the Washington Blade at the courthouse, where she observed Jones’ appearance at the arraignment, that Jones “grabs me by my arms, spins me around grabbing me by my back and pushes me out of the door.”
According to Belcher, while inside one of the bathroom stalls Jones burst into the bathroom and began hurling slurs at her.
“I know you’re a man and you’re not supposed to be using the women’s bathroom,” Belcher quoted Jones as saying. “They haven’t passed the law yet you faggot, you he-she,” Belcher quoted her as saying.
“She called me all types of derogatory names. She humiliated me and embarrassed me all while I was using the bathroom,” Belcher told the Blade.
Belcher said police responded to the scene after she dialed 911. She said among those responding to the scene was Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, supervisor of the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit, who’s a transgender woman.
Superior Court Judge Renee Raymond ordered Jones released on personal recognizance pending a July 21 status hearing on the condition that Jones stay away from Belcher and not attempt in any way to establish contact with her.
“You must remain at least 100 yards away from her – the length of a football field,” Raymond told her. Raymond also ordered Jones to undergo drug testing to determine whether she should enter a drug treatment program.
Jones’ attorney, Joel Davidson, told the Blade after the court arraignment that neither Jones nor he would have an immediate comment on the case.
Giant Food spokesperson Jamie Miller told local media outlets that Jones was employed by a private security company under contract with Giant.
“As this matter involves a third party that provides security services for Giant and there’s an ongoing criminal investigation, all inquiries related to the incident at the H Street Giant should be directed to the local police for a comment at this time,” Miller said in a statement.
Transgender activists familiar with the case said they were alarmed that an incident like this would surface in D.C., where the city’s comprehensive Human Rights Act bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Veteran D.C. transgender advocate Earline Budd, an official with the LGBT supportive social services group HIPS, said the Giant security guard’s action may have been fueled, in part, by the widely publicized anti-trans bills surfacing in state legislatures across the country, including North Carolina.
Budd said she was especially troubled that the security guard told Belcher several times during the altercation that transgender people weren’t protected under D.C. law.
In a statement to the Blade, Monica Palacios, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said the right of trans people to use the bathroom that reflects their gender identity is fully protected under the Human Rights Act’s public accommodation provision.
“The District’s law is clear: transgender and gender non-conforming people may at all times and in all circumstances use the bathroom they believe is most appropriate given their gender identity and expression,” Palacios said.
“Although we cannot comment on a specific incident because a complaint of discrimination could be filed with our office, the transgender community should know D.C. law protects them from discrimination and they should never be denied access to the appropriate bathroom while in the District,” she said.
“HIPS is outraged to hear that a transgender woman was assaulted yesterday by a security guard as she attempted to use the restroom in our local Giant store,” HIPS said in a statement released on Thursday by Budd and the group’s executive director, Cyndee Clay.
“As an organization, we offer services, support, and advocacy to transgender women every day and witness the impact of compounded oppression, discrimination, and transphobia,” the statement says.
The statement adds that discrimination against trans people is not limited to bathrooms, but also surfaces in medical facilities, jobs, on the streets, and in housing.
“To address this issue, HIPS calls for expansive cultural competency training of all employees in the District, including Giant and the security company involved in this incident,” the statement says.
The police report says Jones was placed under arrest and charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor, at the scene and taken to the First District Police Station for processing. Court records show she was held in custody overnight before being taken to court on Thursday.
Like others taken to court after spending the night in jail, Jones was escorted into the arraignment courtroom while bound with handcuffs and leg chains, which were removed by U.S. Marshalls after Judge Raymond ordered her released.