A Chicago area spa is facing down discrimination allegations, after management told a transgender person he could not use the spa's men's shower area.
Levi Pine, a Chicago transgender man, has filed an Illinois Dept. of Human Rights (IDHR) complaint against King Spa & Sauna in Niles, after a manager told him he would have to use a private shower or leave.
"The experience I had was particularly degrading," said Pine.
Pine has been on masculinizing hormones for a year. When he went to the spa on Dec. 9 with a friend, he used the men's shower facilities. Pine said the manager approached him while he was naked and asked to speak with him.
Both the manager and Pine tell the same story about what happened next.
The manager, who identified himself as John but declined to provide a last name to Windy City Times, questioned Pine about his gender. Pine told John that he was transgender, and John said he could provide Pine with a private shower.
Pine said he did not want a private shower and that he could use the same facilities used by other customers. But, John said, other customers had complained.
"We only have a men's spa and a women's spa," John told Windy City Times.
John said he recognizes that transgender people are a minority, and said that he treats all of his customers the same. But he didn't want other customers to feel uncomfortable, he said.
Pine told John that he felt he was being discriminated against.
"I shouldn't have to be sequestered into a private area," Pine later told Windy City Times. "Just because some people who go there are uncomfortable with my body, shouldn't change what I have to do and shouldn't change my rights as a customer."
Two attorneys agree.
Joanie Rae Wimmer, the attorney behind the first successful transgender case under the Illinois Human Rights Act, said she believes Pine has a valid claim.
"It's clear that they denied him enjoyment of equal facilities," she said.
Wimmer points out that the same Illinois law that protects gender identity in public accommodations also applies to race. Customers could not dictate that an African American man should have to use a separate shower because others were uncomfortable, she pointed out.
The Illinois Human Rights Act does make exceptions for the case of "sex" in locker rooms, health clubs and other settings. But Wimmer said she believes that exception only applies to "sex" and not to "gender identity," two different protected categories.
John Knight, LGBT project attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, echoed similar sentiments.
Assuming Pine's version of events are true, he said, "I think certainly, he's got a valid claim."
"It's stigmatizing. It's not fair treatment," Knight said. "That would violate the Human Rights Act, to force him into a private facility."
Pine's state identification marker does not say "male," a fact that Knight says should not change his case.
Pine has filed an IDHR complaint against the spa, sent a letter to the spa and notified the Cook County Department of Human Rights. Pine said he simply wants an apology, and wants the spa to adopt a new trans-friendly policy.
"As mad as I am, I feel like this was an opportunity to have dialogue that wouldn't have happened otherwise," said Pine.
John, the spa manager, says that if there is a better solution than offering a private room, he does not see it.
"The naked man in the women's spa: that is equal?" he said. "I don't think so."