Metro Weekly

Cuba Libre vows to retrain staff after mistreatment of transgender woman

Cuba Libre could face legal action after asking Charlotte Clymer to produce ID before she tried to use the women's restroom

Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar – Photo: Facebook

D.C.’s Cuba Libre has apologized and vowed to retrain staff after kicking out a transgender woman for refusing to show her ID when she tried to use the women’s restroom.

Charlotte Clymer, a rapid response press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, took to Facebook last Saturday to complain that staff at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar had attempted to stop her from using the women’s restroom early Saturday morning.

Clymer, at the restaurant for a close friend’s bachelorette party, attempted to use the restroom around midnight, but was stopped by an attendant who demanded to see her ID, saying she had to be “female” in order to enter.

“This is a packed hallway in a packed club/restaurant, and this random staff person specifically picks me out to ask for ID. I told him that’s nonsense, turned on my heel, and continued into the restroom,” Clymer wrote. “I go into a stall to do my business, and I hear him walk in and search for me in this busy restroom full of women. He is doing everything but opening the stall doors. I ignore him, and after a few moments, he leaves. I do my business, wash my hands, and walk out.”

Upon exiting the restroom, Clymer was approached by the attendant and a manager for Cuba Libre, who told her that District law requires people use restrooms that match the gender on their state-issued ID. Clymer, knowledgeable of D.C.’s Human Rights Act, told the managers that transgender people can access facilities consistent with their gender identity. Despite her efforts, the manager insisted Clymer leave, and threatened to call the police if she refused. When she tried to show them that they were mistaken, Clymer alleges that the manager mocked her and her work for HRC.

Outside the restaurant, Clymer called police while witnesses to the incident comforted her. A police incident report says that Clymer related her story to the responding officers, who then interviewed the attendant and the manager. The manager told police that it is the restaurant’s policy to ask for identification from everybody who wishes to use the bathroom. An MPD spokeswoman confirmed that the investigation into the incident remains ongoing.

While there is no criminal statute under which the restaurant or its employees could be charged, Clymer could choose to bring a civil suit against the company. She could also choose to lodge a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which could determine whether to assess fines or penalties against Cuba Libre, or require that staff undergo retraining.

On Tuesday, Clymer told Metro Weekly that she will be talking with a lawyer about her legal options going forward. As of press time, she has not yet lodged a complaint with the Office of Human Rights, but plans to speak with an investigator this week.

A spokeswoman for OHR could not comment on specific cases or whether a complaint had been filed, but Mónica Palacio, the agency’s executive director, issued a statement reiterating D.C.’s law regarding access to public facilities and encouraging those who believe they have been discriminated against to file complaints with OHR.

The responding MPD officers also notified the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which licenses bars and other nightlife spots, about the incident. If it chooses, ABRA could launch its own inquiry into the incident.

A public relations consultant for Cuba Libre offered a statement on Saturday apologizing for the incident and promising to retrain its entire staff. On Monday, the company’s co-owner, Barry Gutin, issued a more extensive apology acknowledging that his staffers’ actions violated D.C. law and saying that such “mistreatment” was “contrary to my partners’ and my core beliefs and values.”

“We have directed all DC restaurant personnel that they must respect a person’s restroom choice based on their own gender identification or expression,” Gutin said in the statement. “More importantly, we will be partnering with Ruby Corado and the team at Casa Ruby to train our staff, and to identify other initiatives that will support the transgender community including a contribution to Casa Ruby to continue their important work in the community. With the guidance of LGBTQ representatives, we will work to ensure that Cuba Libre is a safe and welcoming space for all of our patrons.”

However, while both Corado and Clymer agreed that retraining staff is important, they allege that the restaurant released its statement promising that Casa Ruby would provide training without ever reaching a final agreement with Corado.

Corado, the executive director of LGBTQ community center Casa Ruby, said that, while the restaurant’s public relations person had reached out to her to ask about providing sensitivity training to Cuba Libre staff, the agreement was never finalized, and Corado had wanted to speak to Clymer before agreeing to provide that training. Corado told Metro Weekly that, were she to agree to do the training, she would be particularly concerned about the way that the attendant and manager mocked Clymer after she insisted that her position was supported by D.C. law.

“She’s very brave,” says Corado, “because I would have gone crazy.”

After learning about Gutin’s statement, Clymer posted a follow-up post on Facebook Monday night.

“Folks, we are now at a point where the corporate leadership of Cuba Libre are intentionally exploiting Ruby Corado to do damage control,” Clymer wrote. “They are exploiting the reputation of a phenomenal transgender woman of color, a hero in this city, to save their own asses.

“I am furious with the conduct of the corporate leadership of Cuba Libre, and any ‘benefit of the doubt’ I had for Barry Gutin has evaporated,” Clymer added. “This corporation clearly does not respect LGBTQ people, and I will not be satisfied until there are appropriate consequences.”

Harvey Huddle, a public relations representative, confirmed that the restaurant has not yet signed an official contract with Casa Ruby to allow for staff retraining, and did not intend to imply otherwise.

“When we hung up the phone with Ruby, we had agreed in principle that Ruby was going to work with us,” Huddle said. “It is absolutely our intent to move forward with Ruby on training and other initiatives.

“We reached out to Ruby because we knew how important it was to reach out to a local transgender organization,” Huddle added. “We respect the role that Ruby has played in the community, and are happy that, in principle, without a signed contract, that she has agreed to work with us. We were honored and happy that she would agree to work with us to fix this horrible situation.”

Despite her own anger over the situation, Clymer told Metro Weekly that she is “appalled” at stories she’s been hearing from staffers at Cuba Libre who have been receiving threats and harassment since the incident made headlines.

“I just want to say that is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting,” says Clymer. “The other staffers at Cuba Libre have nothing to do with this, and I’m quite appalled that they would be harassed because of their manager’s actions. I’ve also publicly said I would love to get dinner, perhaps a group dinner, with staffers of Cuba Libre, as maybe a measure of solidarity, or acknowledgement that they had nothing to do with this.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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