ACLU Sends Demand Letter on Behalf of Two People Refused Access to Bathrooms
INDIO, CA — Donavion and Taiyande Huskey, who are siblings, were tremendously excited to be at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last year and to see Beyoncé and other superstar acts. Until, that is, each of them was refused access, by security personnel, to restrooms that correspond to their gender identities.
This was hugely distressing and disrespectful, especially given the image Coachella fosters of an affirming environment for the LGBTQ community. It was also against the law.
Today the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and The Hicklin Firm sent a letter to Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and its subsidiaries, AEG Presents and Goldenvoice, objecting to the way the Huskey siblings were treated last year and calling for changes to prevent similar incidents in the future. The letter asks that AEG establish and enforce clear policies, "so as to allow transgender people (like everyone else) to use the restroom or other facility that corresponds to their gender identity as required by California law."
The letter stresses that the policies should apply not only to Coachella, but also to other AEG events and properties, including Staples Center, the Stagecoach Festival, Shrine Auditorium, Fonda Theatre, and Desert Trip.
The letter expresses hope that this matter can be resolved amicably and promptly. If not, the letter further states, the Huskeys could seek redress in court.
"California law protects every person's right to access restrooms based on their gender identity," said Amanda Goad, an attorney with the ACLU SoCal and one of the signers of the letter. "Unfortunately, security personnel at last year's Coachella Festival were sending the opposite message, making transgender people feel unwelcome and unsafe."
The first of two incidents occurred last April on the second evening of the Coachella festival when Donavion "Navi" Huskey, who identifies as a transgender woman, was in line to use the women's restroom. There were no complaints from anyone in the line about her presence, but a security guard near the restroom entrance stopped Navi and told her she could not use the facility. When she asked why, the guard neither answered the question nor directed her to an alternative restroom.
Navi was extremely upset at the way she was treated, but had no recourse at that moment. For the remainder of her time at Coachella she was forced to use the gender-neutral portable toilets at the festival entrance because she feared another incident would occur.
The next day, Taiyande "Juice" Huskey, who identifies as transmasculine, was confronted by a security guard stationed inside the men's room and told to leave. Again, there had been no complaints or negative comments from festivalgoers using the restroom. The guard said he would show Juice a gender-neutral restroom, but as soon as Juice was escorted out, the guard turned around and left without a word.
Reflecting on this experience, Juice said, "In that moment I felt like I was stripped of all my dignity and embarrassed in a way that really made me feel like less of a person. No one should have to feel that way."
Of her experience, Navi said, "The treatment I experienced when trying to access the bathroom at Coachella was so far beyond embarrassing, it left me speechless. It was especially abhorrent at an event purported to promote inclusion, diversity, and authentic expression, especially as it welcomed its first Black woman headliner."
Sadly, their experience was not unique at AEG venues. Also at the festival last year, a transgender woman reported being pulled from the women's shower line at the campsite. And there were media reports of a woman at a 2016 country music show at Staples Center being rejected from a women's restroom by a guard who perceived her appearance as masculine.
The similar problems Navi and Juice endured suggest, as the letter notes, that AEG security personnel "are either receiving no guidance on this issue or perhaps even being trained to 'gender police' patrons in violation of California law." The letter details how the festival's treatment of Navi and Juice violated California's Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Attorney Stephen T. Hicklin of The Hicklin Firm commented, "California law protects gender identity and gender expression in public accommodations, like concerts. Some people who know or should know the law in this regard choose to ignore it. We want to raise awareness of these laws so that no one has to go through what the Huskeys went through at Coachella."
In addition to asking for a clear, lawful, written policy guaranteeing all patrons access to restrooms and other facilities based on gender identity, the letter also says that Coachella 2019 staff and contractors should be trained in regard to the policy. The training should be required for personnel at other AEG venues and events as well.
The letter asks for documentation of improved policies, as well as a staff training plan, by March 6. This year's Coachella festival begins April 12.