The owner of a popular Omaha nightspot started a firestorm on Facebook this week when he suggested transgender women should not use the women’s restroom unless they have had their “appendage” removed and their state identification changed.
The comments by Jake Gardner, co-owner of The Hive, were widely shared. Some attacked them as intolerant, while others supported them.
Gardner said he regrets the appendage part of his statement but stands by what he described as safety concerns in allowing expanded access to the women’s restroom. The Hive is expanding its bathroom setup to include a unisex facility, a step in the works long before Gardner typed his statement into his smartphone.
“I thought I was posting to my friends, and it just went viral,” he said.
Eris Koleszar, 30, of Omaha, a transgender woman, said she supports unisex bathrooms, but she said that Gardner’s wanting patrons to get their IDs changed is discriminatory.
“It isolates people who don’t have access, either the financial or other means, to get those documents changed,” she said.
Gardner, 34, is a self-described libertarian with long hair and a beard. He is also a former Marine, a veteran of deployments to Iraq and Haiti. He says people should be left alone to live as they see fit but says he doesn’t sugarcoat his statements.
“The last thing I would want to do is hurt a member of (the transgender) community,” he said. “But people’s feelings are going to be hurt when you bring something up that is sensitive.”
An article he read Tuesday about transgender bathrooms made him think about an assault at his bar, which he said happened a year ago. That led him to post the article along with his comments.
He described the incident like this: A person in women’s clothes but with male genitalia urinated in the women’s bathroom standing up. A woman in the bathroom said something. The person assaulted the woman. Bar staff ejected the attacker. The victim did not want a police report made, he said.
Gardner said he does not believe the person in the bathroom incident is representative of trans people as a whole. But he felt something needed to be done, leading to the bathroom project.
“I’m asking transgender folk to use the unisex ... bathroom,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big ask.”
Despite his social media comments, The Hive does not have a bathroom policy for transgender people, Gardner said, and he does not know whether the bar will establish one. If it does, it would be on the honor system.
The American Civil Liberties Union also issued a statement Tuesday: “Businesses in Nebraska should open their doors to everyone. We encourage transgender people experiencing discrimination to contact our office or the Human Rights and Relations Department in Omaha.”
Gardner said he has learned from the maelstrom, including how painful and expensive it can be to get gender reassignment surgery.
He said: “These things have a way to destroy you, or just blow over.”
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