August 29, 2013
The Bureau of Labor and Industries has ordered a North Portland bar owner to pay $400,000 to a group of cross-dressers he banned from his club last year, the agency said Thursday.
The bureau’s civil rights division began investigating The Twilight Room Annex, formerly known as The P Club, last summer after owner Chris Penner told The Rose City T-Girls not to return to the bar. It was the first complaint filed by Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. The bureau’s deputy commissioner issued the final order.
The penalty is the first imposed under the 2007 Oregon Equality Act. The law protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender Oregonians in employment, housing and public places. The order also requires Penner to pay a $5,000 civil penalty.
“This allows them to feel justice was done and move on in a positive way,” Avakian said of the cross-dressers excluded from the club. “These cases are significant in providing the sort of justice individuals are entitled to when they’re discriminated against.”
The bureau interviewed the T-Girls, as well as Penner’s employees and other customers. The 57-page order details what the T-Girls described in the report as a “devastating” and “humiliating” year after being told they were not wanted as customers.
The complaint lists 11 aggrieved persons, 10 of whom self-identify as cross-dressers. The bureau did not reveal the legal name of any of the T-Girls.
A person identified in the report as “Cassandra Lynn” formed the Rose City T-Girls as a Yahoo group in 2007. The T-Girls met at another bar for years until the owners asked them not to visit more than once a month, they testified. They began frequenting The P Club instead.
The North Lombard Street bar was perfect, the girls said. It had a dance floor, games and “televisions for T-Girls who like to watch sports.”
Best of all: they felt safe there. The Friday night bartender was a lesbian who treated them well. The bouncers walked the girls to their cars as they left. They went every Friday for two years until Penner left a message on Cassandra Lynn’s voicemail.
“People think that A: We’re a tranny bar, or B: We’re a gay bar,” Penner said in the July 2012 message. “We are neither. People are not coming in because they just don’t want to be here on a Friday night now.”
Lynn testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge that she could not sleep in the months after Penner’s voicemail. She was irritable at work and considered disbanding the group. Other girls said they stopped going out in public as women. They pulled away from friends, showed up late to work and gained weight.
Penner last year said he is neither homophobic nor anti-transgender people. He once hosted a weekly queer dance night in the space, and a gay pool team has practiced in the bar. But, he said, other customers complained that the T-Girls left the stall doors open and seats up in the women’s restrooms.