Washington Korean spa ordered to drop ‘biological women only’ policy after trans complaint


A Korean spa in Washington state that requires nudity in some areas was forced to wipe its “biological women only” policy by a Seattle court earlier this week.

What started it: Olympus Spa, which has branches in Lynnwood and Tacoma, was hit with a discrimination complaint by transgender woman customer Haven Wilvich after the business refused her membership application in January 2020. The basis for this denial was that she has not undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Notice served: Wilvich submitted her complaint in May 2020 to the Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC), which then served Olympus with a Notice of Complaint of Discrimination in March 2021.

The spa, which features the experience of Korea’s traditional, sex-segregated bath houses called “jjimjilbang,” responded by maintaining its women-only policy. In a statement, owner Myoon Woon Lee and President Sun Lee said they are “unwilling to remake the ‘jjimjilbang’ we have worked so hard over many years to build and preserve, simply for the sake of promoting gender neutrality.” They also cited their Christian faith in their decision to keep the policy.

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Lawsuit filed: WSHRC ultimately ruled that Olympus had discriminated against Wilvich. In a pre-findings settlement agreement to avoid prosecution, the commission ordered the spa to remove the term “biological women” from its website. The business was also forced to make staff members attend an inclusivity training. However, in March 2022, the spa sued Andreta Armstrong, the commission’s executive director, alleging violations against their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Lawsuit rejected: Seattle District Court Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein rejected Olympus’ suit on Monday, upholding the WSHRC’s ruling that the spa had committed discrimination. Rothstein noted how the WSHRC defines “sexual orientation” as including those whose “gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth." She gave the business 30 days to amend their complaint and refile.

About the complainant: Wilvich, identifies as a "non-binary transgender woman." She is reported to be involved with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network as a program coordinator. Prior to her transition, she reportedly sat on the board of the Seattle Nonbinary Collective and described herself as a “tall, bearded, transfemme, King County native.”

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In a February 2021 Facebook post, she wrote, “I realized something important today. I’m more woman than any TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) will ever be because I am an intentional woman whereas they are only incidental.”

The bigger picture: Olympus appears to be the third Korean spa in the last two years to come under fire over actions against trans customers. In 2021, Los Angeles-based Wi Spa went viral after a female customer filmed her confrontation with staff over a pre-op trans guest who had been allegedly exposing her penis in front of women and girls. That turned out to be registered sex offender Darren Agee Merager, who was arrested in December 2022. Earlier this year, trans customer Alexandra “Allie” Goebert sued King Spa & Sauna in New Jersey, for allegedly denying her access to the women’s section.

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