A Republican congressional candidate harassed a transgender woman at a Denny's restaurant in California — and proudly live-streamed the whole thing.
Jazmina Saavedra, who is running to represent California's 44th District, recorded herself confronting a transgender woman for using the women's restroom and posted it on Facebook Tuesday. Part of the video's caption reads: "As your next Congress woman [sic] I will fight to get our right to have a ladies room just for us back."
In an interview with Refinery29, Saavedra defended her decision to broadcast the interaction.
“She wasn’t a lady, she was a man. I heard his voice. I came with my camera, on my phone, to ask him why he was in the women’s restroom,” she said. “I didn’t know that the guy was a gay guy. I can’t say transgender because someone says transgender, what comes to my mind is a man dressed as a woman. That guy wasn’t dressed as a woman. The LGBT community is always trying to victimize themselves and twist any story to look like a victim.”
(Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. "Transgender" describes a person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. "Gay" describes a specific sexual orientation.)
In her video, Saavedra is shown attempting to use the restroom when she realized there was a transgender woman in the stall. She said that it was an "invasion of privacy" that a trans woman was using the restroom, while simultaneously trying to record said woman inside of it.
"So, that guy is violating my right to use the ladies’ room here, and he’s saying he’s a lady! Stupid guy," she told the camera, which she was holding with a selfie stick. Saavedra then proceeded to wait for the woman to leave the restroom, adding that California politicians "endanger" women when they allow trans people to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
During her interview with Refinery29, Saavedra reiterated that notion. She said: “Anyone can say he feels as a woman and go into the restroom and attack a woman. Why should I feel insecure because these people have a problem with their identity?”
The idea that sharing a restroom with a transgender woman puts you in danger is a myth. To this day, there hasn't been a single incident in the U.S., not one, of transgender people sexually assaulting or harassing women in bathrooms.
The woman ended up leaving the restaurant.
"I was with my pepper spray ready and I called the manager so he helped me," the candidate said. “How can I be with a man inside of the ladies’ room just because he thinks he’s a lady? This is unbelievable. Only in California this happens.”
Nearly 60% of transgender people avoid using public restrooms out of fear of being harassed, a 2016 study found. Research also shows that 70% of trans students avoid using their school’s restrooms out of fear, too.
In her campaign website, Saavedra says if elected she will defend "our morals and faith as conservative families."
Saavedra is running against Rep. Nanette Barragán, a Democrat who was elected in 2016.
When asked whether she believed that her behavior Tuesday was becoming of a congressional candidate, she didn’t respond. She went on to tell Refinery29 that despite of what happened, if elected she would represent all Americans — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Barragán, however, had strong words for Saavedra’s behavior.
“I was appalled by the treatment that this woman received for simply trying to use the restroom," Barragán said in a statement to Refinery29. "Everyone has the right to their own identity, and the right not to be discriminated against for who they are."
In a statement provided to Refinery29, Denny's Corporation said transgender customers and staffers are allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. The company clarified that the transgender guest was asked to leave because a employee "observed drug paraphernalia on the floor near the guest" — not because she was using the women's restroom.
"There is no place for discrimination of any kind in our restaurants," the statement continued. "We do apologize to our transgender guest and others in the restaurant that had to endure another customer’s disrespectful behavior.”
This story was originally published at 12:07 p.m. It has been updated to include a statement from candidate Jazmina Saavedra and Denny's Corporation.
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