Controversial bathroom sign sparks backlash in Medicine Hat

A bar in Alberta is facing backlash after it told a transgender woman she could not use the female washrooms and later posted a controversial sign that some say is discriminatory.

Management says sign was meant to protect female patrons from 'sneaky' men posing as trans

A bar in Medicine Hat has taken down a sign telling patrons they must use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth gender after the controversial move sparked backlash online. 0:48

A bar in Medicine Hat, Alta., is facing backlash after it told a transgender woman she could not use the female washrooms and later posted a controversial sign that some say is discriminatory. 

Earlier this month, 21-year-old River Rising was told by management at the Corona Tavern that she could not use the female washrooms because it might make other women uncomfortable. 

"She basically was saying things along the lines of trans women are not women," said Rising.

"And she threw in that if the owner had been in, he would've thrown me out of the bar for using that bathroom."

Management later posted a sign outside the bathroom which read: "You must use the bathroom of your birth gender."

"We have to look after our female patrons in this way," explained manager Lorraine Schmaltz.

She said since the passage of Bill 7, "guys wanna be sneaky, so they say they're transgender, and they're in the women's washroom," and this has caused some female patrons to feel unsafe and threatened.

Management at the Corona Tavern said they have no bias against people who identify as LGBTQ, and that they have 'always been proud to serve this population.' (Corona Tavern/Facebook)

Offer to use the men's

Rising said a male bouncer at the bar that night asked her highly personal questions about her transition and whether she had undergone surgery. 

"I was angry. I felt hurt," said Rising, who has identified as female since she was 16. 

"Nobody has the right to ask what I have between my legs. It's messed up."

Rising said the bouncer told her she could not use the women's washroom, but offered to escort her into the men's bathroom — a facility she hasn't used since she was 17.

"I told him, 'I would rather pee myself than use a men's washroom. That's not gonna happen tonight,'" she said. 

Community backlash

Patrons at the bar that night say they were "disgusted" by the sign and the bar's response. 

Kaitlin Whitney said this kind of "transphobia" puts the safety of transgender men and women in Medicine Hat at risk. 

"It's an unsafe environment for a woman like that to go into the man's bathroom. What if some weirdo followed her in?" she asked.  

"I think a lot of people are going to take their business elsewhere, whether they're transgender or not," she added. "We all want a safe environment for these people and everyone in the LGBT commmunity."

Rising said that the new gender-neutral washroom is a step in the right direction. 'If that's what came from this experience, I think that's a positive one. That's all you can do. That's the solution.' (River Rising/Facebook)

Destiny Burkart said the argument that men could pretend to be transgender in order to enter the women's bathroom does not justify discrimination.

"If a man's gonna do that, he's gonna do it anyways," Burkart said.

"It's ridiculous that we have to set people apart from ourselves. Why not just let somebody use the fricking bathroom?" she said.

"Knowing what kind of psychological effect this can have on somebody, I just really hope nobody was hurt by it."

Sign taken down

The sign has since been taken down, and management has designated a new gender-neutral washroom, said Schmaltz.

A new sign has been posted outside the Corona Tavern's washroom facilities designating a gender-neutral washroom. (Lorraine Schmaltz)

"I didn't mean it to go in the direction that it did. We're living and learning," she said.

Schmaltz said she is "saddened" by the situation and by the negative attention the incident has received on Facebook

"We have to protect everybody. We have no issue with transgender," she said.

"We made a small mistake, but we're rectifying the situation. We welcome anybody to come here."

With files from Natasha Frakes