3 min

Washroom conflict escalates

Witnesses disagree about what happened at Avanti's

IT'S ABOUT TAKING A PEE. Barrett Haupt (left) and his friend Vanessa Valley say Avanti's staff hurt them after a disagreement about washroom use. Queer witnesses say Haupt's table was being obnoxious and staff were not out of line. Credit: Robin Perelle

Conflicting stories are coming out of Avanti’s pub on Commercial Dr after an alleged bashing that may or may not have ever happened.

Version one: a transgendered man and his lesbian friends got harassed, thrown out and assaulted by Avanti’s staff and patrons. Version two: the man and his friends were being belligerent and aggressive, leaving staff no choice but to throw them out-but they didn’t assault them.

The one thing both versions agree on: it all started when the trans man used the men’s washroom.

“It all comes down to taking a pee,” begins Barrett Haupt, the two-spirited transgendered man in question. “I just took a pee, that’s all I did.”

Haupt was upsetting the customers, counters Avanti’s owner, Tannis Roop. “She appears to be a woman. She doesn’t appear masculine at all.”

Haupt uses male pronouns. He also tries to use the men’s washroom wherever he goes. It can be really hard in malls, he confides. In fact, it’s a contentious issue everywhere he goes.

It takes a lot of self-confidence to walk proudly into a men’s washroom, rather than just ducking into it, Haupt explains. It takes a lot of confidence not to have “a panic attack every time I need to use the washroom.”

Roop admits she has no policy on transgendered washroom use and wouldn’t know where to begin to formulate one. “We don’t have a transgendered washroom,” she says. “I don’t know how to deal with that.”

But there was no gay-bashing at Avanti’s, she quickly adds.

In fact, Roop and her manager Steve Jow, say the trouble really began when Haupt’s lesbian friend followed him into the men’s washroom.

Several male patrons got upset about having a lesbian in the men’s washroom, Jow explains. So he went over to Haupt’s table and politely asked both Haupt and his three friends to stay out of the men’s washroom. An argument ensued and the situation quickly escalated.

Haupt says he had every right to use the men’s washroom and Jow should have accepted that. It felt like Jow took “everything I am and smashed it down into nothing,” he says.

Jow says someone at the table called him a “fucking chink” and a homophobe. Then one of the lesbians hurled her mug of beer to the ground, spraying glass on a customer at the next table.

Haupt’s friend Vanessa Valley says she threw her mug because Jow’s disrespectful attitude towards Haupt made her angry. Jow just kept “looking Barrett up and down and going, ‘you’re not a boy.'”

Jow says he completely lost patience with the group after that, and moved to escort them out of the pub. But Haupt and his friends refused to leave.

Haupt initially said that Jow and some of the patrons not only threw them out of Avanti’s but punched, kicked and generally bashed them once they were outside-a charge Jow and several patrons who witnessed the incident flatly deny. Haupt later admitted that he didn’t know if anyone actually hit him or his friends.

There was no bashing, Roop and Jow repeat. “We are so gay-friendly,” Roop says. “We don’t want to do anything to alienate the gay community. This is the Drive. If a gay-bashing did occur on the Drive, that would be horrific. It just never happened.”

Backing her are some regular gay and lesbian customers. Avanti’s is definitely a gay-friendly environment says Pat Blue, who has been going there for 12 years. Blue says she feels very safe in her neighbourhood pub and points out that Avanti’s even sponsors several lesbian softball teams in the Mabel League.

Steve Halldorson agrees. He and his lover were sitting at the next table the night of the incident. “It [wasn’t] by any means a gay-bashing,” the out gay man says. It was more about people acting badly and belligerently.

The protestors who have since rallied behind Haupt disagree. Led by Lukas Maitland, another trans man who is also a member of Queers United Against Kapitalism (QUAK), they say they won’t abandon their call for a boycott against Avanti’s until Jow gets fired, Avanti’s apologizes to Haupt, his friends and the community, and implements a trans-friendly washroom policy.

Roop says she doesn’t think an apology is necessary because Haupt and his friends behaved so badly. “I feel we handled it the best we could,” she says.

Still, she says she will look into the question of how best to deal with transgendered people and washrooms. “I don’t want to hurt anybody,” she says.

Jow agrees. “It’s a cutting edge issue,” he says. “I would like to do the proper thing. But I don’t know what it is.”

According to a 1999 ruling by the BC Human Rights Tribunal, transsexuals living full-time in their “desired sex” should have access to the appropriate washroom-and to deny them such access constitutes discrimination.