Politics & Policy

Ruling: Gay ‘Bear Bar’ Discriminated against Effeminate Man in Drag

Bar's dress code nondiscriminatory “at face value,” civil-rights division admits.

A Denver gay bar discriminated against a man in drag last year by refusing him entry because of his feminine appearance, according to a new ruling by a Colorado civil-rights division. The ruling found that the the bar had a history of turning down men who “exhibit effeminacy” while allowing women “with a masculine gender presentation.”

The ruling comes after a separate civil-rights commission in the state ordered Christian baker Jack Phillips to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples despite his religious objections.

In August 2013, Vito Marzano tried to get into The Denver Wrangler, a popular gay bar, wearing a dress, makeup, and a wig, according to the Associated Press. When he gave his ID to the bouncer, Marzano was told he could not enter because his appearance did not match his driver’s license.

The bar’s owner argued that the bouncer was following protocol, in line with state liquor laws to prevent underage drinking, for which the Wrangler had been fined in the past. Additionally, Marzano was reportedly aggressive and drunk at the time, which played into the bouncer’s decision.

But the civil-rights division for Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies ruled that the bar’s dress code raises questions about its inclusiveness. For example, its policy against wigs, strong perfume, and “appearance-altering makeup” has a disparate impact on male clientele.

“In other words, a female with a masculine gender presentation would be permitted to enter, whereas, a male presenting as a female would be denied entry,” the division’s director wrote. The Denver Post reports that the division report stated that the Wrangler’s reputation as a “bear bar” leads it to show favor towards more traditionally masculine-looking men.

The director admitted that the bar’s dress code “at face value . . . appear[s] legitimate and nondiscriminatory” but said Marzano’s case raises concern about establishments’ freedom to appeal to and attract certain audiences without discriminating against others.

Marzano, who led a boycott against the Wrangler, said he feels “vindication” in the ruling and said LGBT individuals “face enough hatred and discrimination from the outside world . . .  We do not need it from our own.”

As part of the ruling, the Wrangler will go through mediation with Marzano.

Colorado’s civil-rights bodies have been busy with LGBT issues in recent months. In June, the state’s Civil Rights Commission ruled against Phillips, a Christian owner and baker of Masterpiece Cakeshop, after he turned down a request to prepare a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration. As a result, Phillips was required to change his shop’s policies, attend training, and submit quarterly reports to the division; Phillips has since appealed the ruling.

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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