Khadijah Farmer speaking at a news conference
across from the New York State Supreme Court on Tuesday as her partner,
Joelle Evans, looked on. (Photo: Stan Honda/Agence France-Presse/Getty

Last June, 27 year-old Khadijah Farmer’s life changed in one moment.  The moment when she entered the women’s restroom at popular Greenwich Village restaurant Caliente Cab Company and a woman coming out of the restroom mistook her for a man, thus setting of a chain of events that eventually led to her being forced to leave the restaurant because she didn’t look feminine enough.

Farmer, a Black lesbian has filed a civil rights lawsuit and is seeking unspecified damages against the Caliente Cab Company Tuesday.

Back in June when the incident happened, I had the opportunity to speak with Khadijah about what happened.  Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:

A couple of hours after the parade my girlfriend, her friend, and I got hungry.  It was actually my idea to go to Caliente Cab Company.

We go into the restaurant and sit down and order appetizers and our meal. I decided to go downstairs and use the restroom before the food arrived.

As I am going in, there was a lady coming out who had just finished using the restroom who felt that it was very necessary to turn around and snap at me "this is the women’s restroom."

I am so used to that response that I already have the lines rehearsed in my head and am ready to respond.

I gave her my normal response

Thank you I know.  I am a female and I am where I am supposed to be.

I always try to give my response with smile and be nice about it, including presenting positive body language.

It was my usual response.

I must have been in there for about 30 seconds before I hear the door bust open.

Now mind you I am squatting trying to use the bathroom when the door suddenly opens and I can see through the crack of the stall door the bouncer.

This is the same guy that checked our ID’s at the door when we first came in to make sure we were old enough to drink.

He says that someone complained that there was man in the bathroom and that I had to get out right away.

So I tell him, I’m a woman and that I am supposed to be in here.

He starts banging and pushing the stall door.  So much so that I thought for a moment I was going to be exposed.

He just kept repeating that you have to leave.

I said give me a second and I will prove to you I am a woman.

But at that point, he was still saying that I had to leave and that he didn’t want to hear it.

When I finished using the bathroom, I tried to show him my ID and that didn’t matter even though it clearly had an F for female on it.

He just kept repeating that it was neither here or there.  He was told that there was a man in the bathroom and I had to leave.

This bouncer was at least 6’3" 6’4" and at least 250 pounds.

I was trying to calm him down as I was trying to explain the mistake.

So I am standing there washing my hands, I am letting him know that I know about the laws that say that in New York a person can use the bathroom that they identify with.

The bouncer said that’s stupid and I didn’t know what I was talking about.

At that point, I decided to leave and head back upstairs and the bouncer followed me.  Now mind you, I didn’t get to even fix myself properly and so when I got upstairs everyone was asking me was I alright.

I told them no I am not alright and proceeded to explain the situation.

In the end, Khadijah, her girlfriend, and their friend were forced to leave due to the behavior of the bouncer that didn’t stop when she came out of the restroom.

Farmer said she knows she looks like a man with her closely cropped hair and male clothing. She said people usually apologize after making the mistake, but the bouncer told her, "I want you out of this restroom and out of this restaurant."

Caliente Cab Company says that, "There has been no discrimination or violation of anyone’s civil rights or human dignity by Caliente Cab Company or anyone employed here."

It’s interesting that this story has popped back up in the news on the eve of National Coming Out Day, a day where people who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are encouraged to “come out.”

In the African-American community, women like Khadijah face discrimination almost every day. I know that it’s no easy task to walk in the shoes of a butch lesbian.  I often feel like I have it easy because most people don’t think I am a lesbian at first glance.  And whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I don’t know.  But I do know that it spares me having to deal with the attitudes and misconceptions that many people have about lesbians.  Because if I hear, “you just need to find the right man” or “can I have a threesome with you and my girlfriend” one more time…

While it’s not fair, the fact of the matter is that feminine women are more likely to be accepted in our community than masculine women.  But unlike feminine women who can and often do “pass” for being straight until proven otherwise, just by their physical appearance, most studs and butch women are forced to “come out” and do not get the luxury of turning it on and off depending on where they find themselves on any given day.  And for many Black lesbians living in the hood, this can present a myriad of problems and unwanted confrontations and in some cases result in death as we have seen an influx in the number of hate crimes against Black lesbians in recent years.

While Khadijah’s incident took place in a popular gay friendly neighborhood, it also happens in the hood too.

About 9 years ago, I was dating a Black butch lesbian.  At the time, we were young and somewhat dumb and decided to move in together.  It was her, her cousin, and me.  Her cousin was also a butch lesbian.  I remember that the first night in our new place, which was smack dab in South Los Angeles, 105th and Normandie Avenue to be exact, we decided to go to the corner liquor store and use the pay phone to call a friend.  While they were on the phone two guys came from across the street and started asking them
what "set" they were from.  And before they could answer, they commenced to beating on them.  I remember screaming "they’re girls leave them alone" and running into the liquor store to get help to no avail end up getting hit by one of the guys my damn self.  When the guys finally realized that they were girls and better yet weren’t gang members they took off running, but the damage had already been done.  And like I have never forgotten that incident, I am almost positive that they my ex and her cousin haven’t either.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine wrote a blog post about a night out she had with a few of her friends that ended up in disaster, as they too were discriminated against for not “fitting in” to society’s image of what a women should be dressed like.  What I remember the most about her point of view what that while she is a feminine woman and that night choose to wear her little Black dress, she posed the question of what about women whose little Black dress might be jeans and a button down shirt, referring to her butch friends were weren’t allowed into a party in Hollywood because they didn’t it in with the “look.”

I am happy that Khadijah is taking steps to prevent what happened to her from happening to anyone else.

Walking through life always having to explain your gender identity has got to be hard and when incidents like what happened to Khadijah or the one I just described above happen, it can make for a hard psychological situation for our sisters who besides having to battle the homophobia from their own people and the racism in gay America, have to justify and defend themselves every time they use a public restroom or deal with the stares and glares from people who just don’t understand.

I am proud of Khadijah for telling the world just exactly what it’s like to be Black, butch, and lesbian in America and that no matter what, she’s going to be exactly who she is.  For that, she gets this Black lesbian’s thanks and gratitude and the hope that more eyes will be opened to exactly what it means to be Black and same-gender loving in America.