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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Drag performers allege discrimination at beauty-supply store
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2016-01-26

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[This item updated Jan. 27, 7:30 a.m.]

On Jan. 23 at around 5 p.m. eight drag performers with the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus entered Elim Wig & Beauty Supply on North Broadway in Uptown to shop for wigs for their upcoming drag show.

Brandon Trumfio, one of the shoppers, explained that they decided to shop at Elim because they had been buying wigs from the store for more than 10 years and had great experiences with the store staff in the past. He noted that he'd just bought a wig at Elim a week prior to the group's visit and was there to help his friends pick out their wigs.

"We started at the jewelry stores on Clark Street and had a great time purchasing accessories," said Trumfio. "We walked in and headed to the back, where two of the four employees in the store happily helped us pick out and try on some wigs. At the time, there were three other shoppers in the store.

"After about 20 minutes, this lady from the front of the store—whom I can only assume was a manager—came back and started yelling at us. She specifically said that there 'were too many of us.' What does that mean? Too many gay men shopping at once? She also said we 'were making the other customers uncomfortable' and finally the kicker—that 'this store was for women' and that 'you have to go.' We were all so shocked that we didn't even know how to respond and proceeded to leave without even putting up a fight.

"Personally, I have never experienced such blatant discrimination in my whole life. I've never been kicked out of a store and told that I wasn't allowed to shop there. I feel like we had just stepped back into a time machine—to a time when discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity was allowed. But this is Illinois, and we have protections against discrimination like this."

Reginald Owens and Mark Sherman were among the other individuals involved in the alleged incident.

"The associate asking us to leave 'because this is a store for women' is an absolute slap in the face," said Owens. "We were at a jewelry store on Clark Street an hour before we went to Elim and spent well over $500 at that store. I really can't comprehend the logic of asking eight repeat customers to leave because one customer has homophobic issues. Every day it becomes more obvious that there's a struggle we have yet to win. But I'm a proud Black gay man who does drag and I will continue to lift myself up and fight every day."

"We decided to go to Elim because, in the past, it's been known by us as a tolerant and welcoming place," said Sherman. "We were respectful to the merchandise, well mannered and polite customers looking forward to making some purchases. After trying on several wigs with employee assistance, a woman employee who was not previously assisting us loudly and aggressively told us to 'make our purchases and leave,' 'you have to leave,' 'you are making customers uncomfortable,' [and] 'This is a store for women, not men; you have to go.'

"We quietly gathered our belongings from the front of the store and left the premises without a word—shocked and in awe. Most of us had shopped at that store for wigs, jewelry and make-up for years. We felt comfortable there. That only added to how shocking it was to be asked to leave because we were 'men in a women's store.'

"Specifically, for me, I have been out of the closet since 1995. I have experienced hate, verbal abuse and discrimination my entire life for nothing more than the crime of existing just as I am, living as a gay man. Over the years, these types of incidents have lessened in number and the world has become a much more tolerant and accepting place to live as a social minority. However, there's nothing quite like the same knife cutting open the same wound. The pain and hatred of discrimination is just as raw and ugly as the first time it is experienced."

When asked about the incident in question, Elim Wig & Beauty Supply President Michael Yim said, "No customer was 'kicked out' of Elim Wig & Beauty Supply on Jan. 23, 2016. … If the customers who made this allegation to your publication were not fully satisfied with our service, we kindly extend our invitation for them to visit us again. We would be more than happy to assist them in any way we can."

Trumfio has also shared their story on social media and filed an official complaint on behalf of the group with the Illinois Civil Rights Bureau.

"At the very least this will be on their record so that if further complaints are filed against Elim, the city can take action," said Trumfio. "I will say that finding the proper place to report a civil-rights violation was kind of tricky, as city websites are a little hard to navigate. My first thought was the Better Business Bureau, but they do not handle discrimination claims. So, I continued searching and found a form for the Civil Rights Bureau at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/rights/civilrights.html.&;


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