By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
This month’s column is something a little different. It is the text of a speech I delivered at the Massachusetts State House in support of the Public Accommodations Protections Bill, for Trans Lobby Day on September 17th, 2015. It’s not a story I tell often. Please, read it and if you are moved by my experience, contact your legislator and urge them to support “An Act Relative to Transgender Discrimination.”
I was not always the strong and self-assured activist you see standing before you today.
I was, as many of you are or have been, new and nervous. An actor and a comic, all I really wanted to do was entertain people, make them laugh, try to find truth in my art.
I had come out to everyone I knew—all the people I worked with and my friends and family in the theatre.
And, it was time to show myself, to let them see me, meet me. Some friends of mine were doing a sketch show at Second City, and I thought it would be the ideal opportunity. So, I got all dressed up and made up, and my girlfriend and I went to the theatre. [pullquote]If I were to trace back the string of events that led me to decide to leave Los Angeles, much of it has roots in that one act of discrimination.[/pullquote]
I’m sure it was a fine show, although I remember very little besides the nervousness I felt. After, I found myself quite reasonably in need of a drink. I wasn’t ready to wade into a bar full of stand up comics at The Hollywood Improv, next door, where I worked; so we decided to go across the street to a nice little restaurant and bar that we all often hung out at after shows.
It was my local—a place I had been in on countless nights. They knew us there. I had even been in there in full Abe Lincoln costume! I had no reason to think that simply going in dressed femininely, but fairly conservatively as myself, would be any problem at all. It was my “safe” spot.
When we got to the front door, we were stopped, told we could not come in. Mystified, we politely asked why. Very suddenly, the owner appeared. He repeated more forcefully that we would not be allowed inside. “Not dressed like that.” He told me.
His volume was rising quickly and a crowd was gathering. I told him, stammeringly, I wasn’t coming from a show, and this wasn’t a costume. In front of the now large crowd I had to tell him I was a transgender woman, this was who I am.
I was shaking. [pullquote]But the owner was resolute. His response to me, to my very personal admission there in the midst of this crowd, was, “I don’t want your kind in my place.”[/pullquote]
Some of the crowd, which turned out to be a wedding party that was having a reception in the bar that night, tried to intervene. The bride herself welcomed me in as her guest.
But the owner was resolute. His response to me, to my very personal admission there in the midst of this crowd, was, “I don’t want your kind in my place.”
I was speechless, brought to tears. It all happened in front of a crowd, in full view of both the theatre I regularly performed at and my place of employment next door.
Mute with tears and paralyzed with humiliation, the man who brought me to this state proceeded to tell my girlfriend and I that he would call the police if we did not leave immediately.
My girlfriend told him to call the police. We would wait.
If this happened today, that is probably what I would have done. But it did not, and I was not the person I am now. I needed to get out of there.
A block away, I collapsed on a curb and sobbed.
Fallout from that night seeped into my life like poison. This was still a place all my friends and colleagues drank at after shows. I regularly had to deal with their staff as a manager at the business across the street.
Yet, I could not go in because I was trans.
I felt the repercussions of that night as I became alienated from my improv ensemble, because I couldn’t socialize with them after shows. I was made separate. [pullquote]I felt the repercussions of that night as I became alienated from my improv ensemble, because I couldn’t socialize with them after shows. I was made separate.[/pullquote]
If I were to trace back the string of events that led me to decide to leave Los Angeles, much of it has roots in that one act of discrimination.
And, this happened in famously liberal and open-minded West Hollywood, California. Can you imagine what it might be like for a scared, newly out, trans person in Waltham? Or Pittsfield?
This type of discrimination can happen in any public place—a courthouse, a library, a bus or a bar. No matter how dramatic or slight the instance, it can destroy lives and leave deep scars.
We need an explicit public accommodations anti-discrimination law not to protect people like me, as I am today, secure in myself and unafraid to speak up. We need this law to protect the vulnerable, the young, and the disenfranchised—even to protect just regular folks, people who would shudder at the thought of speaking to a crowd like you in a place like this.
I urge you, in memory of my younger self, brought to tears on a public sidewalk, to fight discrimination in public accommodations and support the Equal Access Bill.
* Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: [email protected].