Black trans woman reveals ‘demoralising’ abuse she experienced in restaurant bathroom

A black transgender woman has described a confrontation in the ladies bathroom of an In-N-Out restaurant that left her feeling “demoralised, devalued and powerless”.

Writing in The Guardian, LeahAnn Mitchell explains the true cost of the everyday harassment that transgender people routinely face when using public bathrooms.

The encounter happened at an In-N-Out restaurant in the Bay Area, San Francisco. Mitchell was alone in the ladies loos when a manager approached her stall.

The woman reportedly misgendered Mitchell, telling her: “Sir, sir – you’re not supposed to be in here.” Mitchell responded: “Ma’am, it’s just me in here.”

Unfortunately, Mitchell says that wasn’t enough for the manager. “I thought she would leave and that would be it. But I’m a black transgender woman, and people don’t just let us live our lives,” she said.

The manager allegedly came up to the stall door and started looking through the cracks, and appeared to be scanning Mitchell’s body up and down.

(Tim Mossholder/Pexels)

“I got very scared. I clenched my purse to cover myself. I felt she was trying to look at my genitals, attempting to determine my gender. I asked her to leave while she continued to ask whether I was a man,” she said.

Eventually, the manager gave up and left Mitchell in peace. When Mitchell left the toilets she approached the woman and reminded her that she is “a human that deserves privacy in the bathroom”.

But the In-N-Out manager refused to explain her behaviour and just dismissed Mitchell: “I don’t have time for this.”

It was a crushing blow to her confidence. “I drove home to Oakland in a fog. I told my partner what happened and broke down crying angrily,” she recalled.

The “demoralising” encounter exacerbated her anxiety, stress and paranoia, and she grew increasingly depressed at a time when she was trying to focus on her career.

Afterwards she didn’t leave the house as she feared being harassed. When she felt able to go out again, she waited until she got home to use the bathroom as felt like “the safest thing to do”.

“I had regressed and had to rebuild my strength just to walk in and use a bathroom,” she said. “The smell of In-N-Out still bothers me.”

Mitchell filed a discrimination complaint against In-N-Out, as California’s laws clearly state that people can use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

In-N-Out lawyers say the company did not harass or discriminate against LeahAnne Mitchell (George Rose/Getty)

But In-N-Out’s lawyers “made it clear that they do not feel the company did anything wrong”. A spokesperson told The Guardian that In-N-Out did not harass or discriminate against Mitchell and that the manager was not aware she was transgender.

A company report stated that a customer repeatedly raised the concern of a man in the women’s restroom. The manager claims she went to investigate, called out “Sir?” and when Mitchell answered “Excuse me?” she exited the bathroom after saying: “I’m sorry – we had a customer let us know there was a gentleman in here so I was just checking.”

Mitchell rejects this explanation, saying: “It felt as if they told me I was worth nothing. They offered me a settlement that I found offensive. I said no.”

She was encouraged to speak out ahead of an upcoming Supreme Court case that will decide if anti-LGBT+ employment discrimination qualifies as discrimination.

“I won’t be silent,” she insisted. “When it comes to black and brown trans folks, it feels like we don’t matter.

“Why can’t we exist in peace and have the same rights other people have? Why should somebody else’s opinion of what I should be get to dictate what my existence is?

“I’m asking that we are able to go about our lives and use the bathroom, without you kicking open the door and dragging us out.”