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Coachella producer AEG accused of discrimination by transgender siblings

Coachella Transgender

Two transgender siblings (Taiyande and Donavion Huskey) say they were discriminated against at Coachella last year when security refused to let them use restrooms that correspond to their gender identities. Photo: ACLU of Southern California.

Two transgender siblings say they were discriminated against at Coachella last year when security refused to let them use restrooms that correspond to their gender identities.

The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and attorneys for Donavion and Taiyande Huskey sent a letter today to Anschutz Entertainment Group and its subsidiaries, AEG Presents and Goldenvoice, producers of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, requesting policy changes to prevent similar incidents in the future.

If the matter can’t be resolved promptly, the Huskeys could file a lawsuit, according to a statement.

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AEG must establish and enforce clear policies that “allow transgender people (like everyone else) to use the restroom or other facility that corresponds to their gender identity as required by California law,” according to the letter.

GENDER IDENTITY PROTECTIONS

“California law protects gender identity and gender expression in public accommodations, like concerts,” attorney Stephen T. Hicklin of The Hicklin Firm said in a statement. “Some people who know or should know the law in this regard choose to ignore it. We want to raise awareness of these laws so that no one has to go through what the Huskeys went through at Coachella.”

COACHELLA RESPONDS

A spokesperson for Coachella, who refused to identify themselves, emailed a statement that read in part,  “Donavion and Taiyande’s experience is unacceptable,” and that Coachella will be implementing an “every one” campaign to create “a festival culture that is safe and inclusive for everyone. Persons of any gender identity or expression, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, age or ability are welcome at Coachella,” according to the Coachella website.

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Coachella started in 1999. It’s unclear why it took 20 years for such a “campaign” to be launched.

The statement also read that festival organizers are reaching out to Donavion and Taiyande to invite them “to our offices to help us perfect this program for 2019 for all patrons of any gender identity or expression, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, age or ability.”

Documentation of improved policies, as well as a staff training plan, should be received by March 6, according to the letter. This year’s Coachella is from April 12 to 14 and from April 19 to 21.

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‘UNWELCOME AND UNSAFE’

Amanda Goad, an attorney with the ACLU SoCal, added in the statement that Coachella security made transgender people feel “unwelcome and unsafe.”

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The policies should apply not only to Coachella, but also to other AEG events and properties, including Staples Center, the Stagecoach Festival, Shrine Auditorium, Fonda Theatre, and Desert Trip, according to the letter.

COACHELLA INCIDENT

The first of two incidents occurred last April on the second evening of festival when Donavion who identifies as a transgender woman, was in line to use the women’s restroom. Nobody in line complained about her presence, but a security guard near the restroom entrance stopped her and said she could not use the facility, according to the letter.

When Donavion asked why, the guard neither answered the question nor directed her to an alternative restroom.

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‘ESPECIALLY ABHORRENT’

Donavion was extremely upset at how she was treated, but had no recourse at that moment. During the remainder of her time at Coachella, Donavion used the gender-neutral portable toilets at the festival entrance because she feared another incident would happen, according to the letter.

“The treatment I experienced when trying to access the bathroom at Coachella was so far beyond embarrassing, it left me speechless,” Donavion said in the same statement. “It was especially abhorrent at an event purported to promote inclusion, diversity, and authentic expression, especially as it welcomed its first black woman headliner.”

SECOND COACHELLA INCIDENT

The next day, Taiyande, who identifies as transmasculine, was confronted by a security guard stationed inside the men’s room and told to leave, according to the letter.

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The guard said he would show Taiyande a gender-neutral restroom, but as soon as Taiyande was escorted outside, the guard turned around and left without a word.

‘FEEL LESS OF A PERSON’

“In that moment I felt like I was stripped of all my dignity and embarrassed in a way that really made me feel like less of a person,” Taiyande said. “No one should have to feel that way.”

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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