A Toronto trans woman is speaking with lawyers after an incident in which she says she was ejected from Casino Rama for using a woman’s washroom. A similar incident was reported to have taken place at the casino six years earlier.
Natasha Choli has been visiting Casino Rama once or twice a month for about a year. She visited the casino on Jan 31 and stayed overnight. The next morning, she says, she was in the women’s washroom and was told by a female custodian that she couldn’t be there.
Choli says she explained her trans status to the custodian and showed her a document indicating she is female. When the unconvinced custodian threatened to call security, Choli told her to go ahead.
Choli says she ended up arguing with a handful of security guards and claims one said, “[You] can’t be here because you didn’t have the operation.” At one point, an exasperated Choli says, she took off her shirt to prove she has women’s breasts.
Security officers handcuffed Choli, who says she started yelling at casino guests to record what was happening.
“They treated me worse than garbage,” says Choli, who felt scared at the time but is now indignant. In a written statement, Casino Rama told Xtra it trains its staff to avoid discrimination. “We are committed to providing an entertainment based experience that is respectful of the dignity and independence of all people,” reads the statement provided by Jenna Hunter, director of public relations. “It is possible that from time to time, a patron may perceive some form of disrespect or discrimination, even though no such action was intended by an employee with whom they may have had some interaction.”
Security officers wrote a 30-day trespass notice, and Choli asked security staff to call police to come. A Rama police officer attended and laid no charge, saying the notice was valid.
Choli says she had excruciating pain from the handcuffs and asked to be sent to a nearby hospital. A note from Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital shows that an X-ray found no fractures. Choli believes the washroom incident happened around 7:30am. Her hospital note shows she was released around 4:45pm.
Hunter notes that Casino Rama has four unisex, single-person restrooms located throughout the casino. She notes that all employees receive customer service training — at quarterly and yearly meetings — on interacting with all people.
Choli, 49, is an immigrant from Iraqi Kurdistan who has lived in Toronto since 2002 and has been transitioning since 2010. She’s experienced minor incidents of transphobia, but none escalated like the incident at Casino Rama.
In an interview with Xtra, Choli lays out the trespass notice, a report from the hospital and business cards of everyone she spoke with during the incident. She’s used to carrying around documents — Choli is armed at all times with two doctor’s notes indicating her trans status, as well as ruffled name-change documents.
“We have to stand up for ourselves or we’re treated as less than human,” she says.
Choli’s experience at Casino Rama parallels an incident reported in March 2008 at the casino. Trans woman Carol Ann Kotsopoulos told the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) that security staff forcibly escorted her out of a women’s washroom. The commission threw out the complaint because it was filed three months after the 12-month deadline.
Hunter said Casino Rama could not comment on either case specifically because of privacy concerns.
Ontario law states that businesses must let individuals use the washroom of their own felt gender.
Michelle Boyce is a psychotherapist and executive director of the Alphabet Community Centre in London, Ontario. She’s representing three transgender people in an ongoing OHRC case after a London farmers’ market evicted a local candle retailer in 2011, claiming customers were uncomfortable with trans staff.
“Many business owners don’t know the law surrounding trans people and access to the washroom,” Boyce tells Xtra in an email. “It does not matter what their ID says, or if they have or have not had any surgeries.
“Sometimes business owners don’t care,” she says. “Until the business community in Ontario understands the laws, they will continue to make these poor decisions that land them in human-rights courtrooms.”
Choli is now considering suing Casino Rama over the incident, saying a human-rights ruling would not be enough.
“I want everybody to know what happened to me,” she says.