A transgender woman alleges that she was thrown out of a Florida nightclub after she used the women’s restroom.
Dixie Roadhouse’s website, which says the club was voted the No. 1 nightclub in all of Southwest Florida, describes it as a “country-themed party-bar” that offers to teach patrons how to line dance for free.
A sign at the entrance says, “If you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or just a jerk… don’t come in." Despite that message, Ayers said, she was confronted by security after she used the women’s restroom.
When her friend TJ Jackson asked why Ayers wasn't permitted to use that restroom, security guards said they "don't allow men to use the women's restrooms," Jackson told WBBH.
Ayers said she and her friends then went to speak to the manager, who told Ayers she had to use the facilities that matched the gender listed on her ID, which she hasn't changed yet.
Sean Kelliher, another nightclub patron who had just met Ayers, intervened and tried to explain the situation to club employees.
“This is a woman, a trans woman, and you need to understand what that is,” Kelliher told WBBH. “This is not a drag queen or a cross-dresser. This is a trans girl, and you need to treat her as a lady.”
But Ayers said the staff didn’t understand, and “the next thing you know, they grab ahold of me and start shoving me out the front door.”
Dixie Roadhouse hasn’t responded to a request for comment.
Through tears, Ayers told WBBH that the experience made her feel “worthless.”
“Like I wasn’t a person, or I didn’t have feelings or emotions. Just no respect,” she said.
Inconsistent state laws
State public accommodations laws, which protect against discrimination in public businesses like bars, vary widely across the country in whether they prohibit discrimination based on LGBTQ status.
Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank. Six more states, including Florida, interpret existing prohibitions on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on LGBTQ status.
Wisconsin has a public accommodations law that prohibits discrimination based only on sexual orientation and not gender identity, and the remaining 21 states and five territories have no laws that explicitly prohibit such discrimination based on LGBTQ status.
Courts have increasingly decided in favor of transgender people who sue under discrimination laws to access restrooms.
In 2020, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling in favor of transgender Florida student Drew Adams, who sued his school district in 2015 after it refused to allow him access to the boys' restroom. The court found that Adams had a right to use the boys' restroom under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools.
Last year, an appellate court found that Hobby Lobby violated Illinois’ anti-discrimination law — both as an employer and as a place of public accommodation — by not allowing a transgender employee to use the women's restroom.
While most states have no official guidance on restroom access for transgender patrons in public accommodations, people who are denied access to restrooms because of their gender identities can file complaints with their state or local human rights agencies, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.