With increasing transgender visibility come more tussles, it seems, regarding access to traditionally gendered spaces — from public restrooms and women’s music festivals to gym locker rooms and typically male-oriented barbershops. But in a heartwarming twist on that last one, a British teen was given a warm welcome at a gay salon after being unceremoniously turned away by a befuddled barber.
Sam Vella, 16, told the Manchester Evening News that he was refused a buzz cut at Village Barbers in the Manchester suburb of Clayton on Saturday because the staffers “weren’t sure” of his gender.
“His hair is really short and he wanted the sides [shaved], so it was a boy’s haircut,” explained his mom, Joanna, who was with him. “But we were told they don’t cut girls’ hair. I initially thought they meant me but then realized they meant Sam. … We explained Sam is a boy, but they said they weren’t sure ‘what Sam was.’ They then shouted at him to leave and slammed the door in our face.”
Sam added, “They just kept telling me that because I wore nail polish I was a girl, and then they didn’t know what I was. I felt humiliated and really embarrassed.”
The incident was reminiscent of two recent lawsuits in California — one filed in March by Rose Trevis and another in May by Kendall Oliver, both transgender individuals who were refused haircuts at barbershops that apparently serve only men (which is against California law).
But in Sam’s case, he wound up with the haircut he wanted — along with some very kind treatment — thanks to the manager of nearby Village Hair, Kurt Laing, who read about Sam’s humiliation and reached out to the teen.
Laing told the Evening News: “It’s so upsetting that Sam had to go through that and was treated in that way. Hair is hair at the end of the day, and you would think in 2016 people would accept that.” He added, “I believe that people should be able to be who they want to be. And we have all walks of life in our salon. We don’t like to discriminate based on anything. We want people to be able to fully express themselves, whatever that may be. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, gay, straight, or even a purple unicorn, if you’ve got hair, we will cut it.”
That worked for Sam. “I am so grateful for him to do that,” he said. “It’s such a kind thing to do for someone. I really am grateful and really pleased with it.”