Citizen Green: No safe spaces for trans folk, even at LGBT night

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Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

The show of police force in front of Greene Street at 1 a.m. on Monday was so clearly not the outcome Jonathan Green was looking for when seeking a meeting on the sidewalk with the general manager to get an explanation for being thrown out of the club.

I had received a call from April Parker, a leader in the Queer People of Color Collective and Black Lives Matter, after midnight. She breathlessly told me that a trans person had been ejected from the women’s restroom and assaulted during the club’s LGBT night.

“We’re not calling the police,” Parker told me. “We as queer people and trans people don’t feel safe and comfortable with the police.”

About 20 minutes later, when I arrived on the scene, a dozen squad cars with lights activated blocked the street in diagonal formation. A knot of officers stood in front of the club entrance and a small crowd of patrons was filtering back inside as people decided the drama outside wasn’t important enough to warrant interrupting the party. Green, Parker and about eight others stood about 50 feet down the sidewalk, frustrated and angry, but in no way causing any disruption.

After Green’s crew had decided to call it a night, and most of the police had left, I spoke with Greensboro police Officer J. Douglas.

“We responded on a disorder call,” he told me. “We don’t know what to expect. Usually it’s people fighting. I’ve seen a hundred people in the street. You see most of the officers are gone now. Once they found out everything was okay, they cleared out.”

I spoke with Green and with the general manager, who identified himself only as Bobby to me. It’s no surprise that on several points their accounts of what transpired during the altercation diverge. Most notably, Green claims to have been manhandled by Bobby, while Bobby says he gently, if forcibly showed Green to the door.

On one point, however, they agree: Green complied when asked to leave the women’s restroom on the first floor of the club, but was thrown out of the club anyway.

“Me and my friends went out to Greene Street for LGBT night,” Green told me. “We were there for about 10 minutes. I go to the restroom — the women’s restroom. I identify as gender non-binary/gender queer. I was asked to remove myself, and I did remove myself. I went to the upstairs restroom, which is not labeled. I was approached by two bouncers. Bobby, the general manager, asked me if I have a penis, and I said, ‘I don’t identify as such.’”

During a phone conversation the next day Bobby told me he had posted a sign outside the restroom about three weeks ago earlier stating, “Females only, no exceptions, zero tolerance.” The sign is posted, he said to “protect the females that work there and the females that are straight.”

He considers that fair warning, and feels that summary ejection is a reasonable consequence.

“He preceded to tell me that he didn’t identify himself as a male,” Bobby said. “I said, ‘Your driver’s license says you are a male.’”

Maybe he doesn’t understand that being trans is not an act or a lifestyle, but Bobby’s insistence on referring to Jonathan by male pronouns is offensive. Reducing a trans person to the gender they were assigned at birth diminishes their humanity and boxes them into a confined identity that doesn’t feel natural to who they actually are.

And whatever the fears of Greene Street’s employees, trans people are the least likely to commit an assault and, in fact, are among the most vulnerable and socially marginalized people on earth. The National LGBTQ Task Force reports that, as of Oct. 16, at least 23 trans women and gender nonconforming people, most of whom are black and Latina, have been murdered this year in the United States.

All things being equal, Greene Street seems like the kind of place where trans people should be able to find acceptance. Bobby told me that Sundays, which is marketed as LGBT night, is the club’s biggest draw. Talking with him, I got the sense that he genuinely wants to operate a club that is welcoming to trans people. He reiterated what he told Dominique Nixon, one of Green’s friends, early Monday morning: The club has designated the two upstairs restrooms as gender neutral — it’s not really clear whether this happened prior to the incident or as a result of Green’s supporter demanding accountability.

But especially considering that the club called the police, I found it troubling that twice during our conversation Bobby brought up the threat of jail in the context of gender identity.

“If you go to jail tonight where are they going to put you?” he said. “They’re going to put you with the males.”

He added, “I’m not coldhearted. I really feel for these people. My whole thing is I have to protect my staff. That’s the only reason I have an issue. I have five to six ladies that work there that don’t want to be in [the restroom] beside a male.”

The Queer People of Color Collective has issued three demands: a public apology from Bobby for the way Green was treated; mandatory trans sensitivity training for staff at the club, including the DJ and party host; and a copy of the surveillance videotape showing the alleged assault.

Parker said her group would be happy to meet with the female employees at Greene Street.

“We have no problem sitting and talking about LGBT people’s experience with straight women that work there,” she said. “You should be willing to have a conversation. The club is utilizing the police. We did not engage the police, and as of yet no charge has been filed. We’re talking about restorative justice. That has to mean dialogue where each side is being heard.”