Los Angeles police say they’ve launched a hate crime investigation after a video showing transgender women being forcibly removed from a popular downtown bar went viral on social media. The women said they were physically and verbally assaulted by two other patrons at Las Perlas and then bar staff aggressively ousted them.
“Why didn’t they keep us safe?” Jennifer Bianchi, who was seen in the video struggling with a Las Perlas employee, told The Washington Post. “Why did they kick us out like we were trash?”
According to the Post, Bianchi and seven of her colleagues from Bienestar Human Services, a nonprofit that provides health care and other services to Latino and LGBTQ populations, had been hanging out at Las Perlas on Friday night when two other customers — a man and a woman — approached their table and began insulting them.
“They said, ‘You guys are all men. You guys don’t belong here,’” Khloe Rios, who filmed the group’s encounter with bar staff on her cell phone, told the Los Angeles Times. “And we turned around and said, ‘Please leave us alone. We don’t want problems.’”
The co-workers’ group reportedly included four transgender women, two gay men and one gender-nonconforming person.
Rios said the man who approached them slapped and pushed one of her colleagues. It was then that the bar’s security staff became involved, she told the Times.
The staff did not get physical with the two other patrons, Rios and her co-workers allege, merely telling the pair to leave. In contrast, the group said Las Perlas employees became aggressive with them, prompting Rios to start filming the skirmish.
In the video, Bianchi is seen wrestling with a person identified by the Post as a bouncer.
“Don’t touch me like that!” Bianchi repeatedly shouted as she was pushed against a wall.
Another transgender woman was shown being dragged to the exit by a bar employee, his arm wrapped around her chest.
“What happened?” the woman asked.
Cedd Moses, founder of Pouring With Heart, the company that owns the bar, initially defended the actions of his staff, saying in a statement on Facebook that the manager on duty had “asked both groups to leave as the safety and security of our patrons and employees is our top priority and we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior in our establishments.”
“The guards removed the guests that were not compliant with the manager’s request to leave and did so in accordance with company policy,” Moses said.
But after facing intense publish backlash, including a protest outside Las Perlas that was reportedly attended by over 100 people on Saturday, Moses struck a more contrite note in a follow-up statement.
“Our first and primary concern, and has been from day one, is to operate a safe place for all people. Period, no exceptions. We regret that didn’t happen Friday night, and want to apologize to all of our guests including the Transgender community, a community who has come to our bar as well as works there,” Moses said.
Moses added that his company was “taking immediate steps to fully investigate what happened on Friday and to address each concern that we’ve received since then,” including hiring new security staff who have received sensitivity training and to review the tapes from the incident to “make more specific analysis of exactly what happened and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Bianchi, Rios and their co-workers reported the two bar patrons who allegedly harassed them to the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD told NBC Los Angeles that it was investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. They said, however, that the two people had left the bar by the time officers arrived.
Beatrice Girmala, assistant chief of the LAPD, said the department was “committed to ensuring the safety of every Angeleno”:
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Sunday that his office had been in contact with the LAPD about the incident:
Bianchi said the patron who attacked her and her colleagues had threatened them before he left the bar on Friday. He grabbed a piece of metal from the street and threw it at the door, she said.
“He ... said they would shoot us all and kill us because we were guys,” Bianchi told the LA Times. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I feel sad. I feel anger. I feel just like I’m in a nightmare.”