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Transgender woman says she was kicked out of spa because ‘she looked different’

Friday, March 1, 2013
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CENTREVILLE, Va. — A California transgender woman alleges that, while on a business trip last year, she was asked to leave a suburban Washington D.C. spa because the manager told her “she looked different.”

Riya Suising, a Chinese-American transgender female and businesswoman from Palo Alto, Calif., said she was told by the manager at Spa World in Centreville, Va., that five other customers had lodged complaints about her presence.

Suising said she is very tall and muscular and has very broad shoulders, which may distinguish her from natural-born females, but that otherwise her gender presentation is very feminine.

“None of the complaints, as they were described to me, referenced my genitalia in any way,” she said. “I can’t believe that they would discriminate based on physical appearance. I was not doing anything but keeping to myself.”

Suising, a California licensed massage and acupressure therapist, said that after she received a refund and left the spa, she filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau of Fairfax County, Va., where the spa is located.

After the Better Business Bureau opened an investigation, Spa World’s owner, Sang K. Lee, responded on Jan. 28 to the BBB in writing, stating: “It is our policy to not accept any kinds of abnormal sexual oriented customers to our facility such as homosexuals, or transgender(s),” reported the Fairfax Times.

Spa World’s written reply said its policy is for the “safety and the comfort of young children” who use facility.

Riya Suising

“In California, this would be illegal,” said Suising. “I am not sure exactly what the state of LGBT equality is in Virginia, but I hope it is more progressive than this.”

James Lee, a manager on duty at Spa World, told LGBTQ Nation on Friday that the incident was a result of misunderstanding and a language problem.

“The Korean-English barrier just made a small miscommunication, Mr. [Sang] Lee meant to write only that sexual activity, either gay or straight, is not allowed at Spa World,” said Lee. “There was a woman inside of the woman’s sauna, and we had many complaints about that particular person, stating there was a man inside of the woman’s locker room.”

He did acknowledge that a transgender woman using Spa World’s bathing and changing facilities doesn’t violate the spa’s policy, however, but that Suising “caught us all off-guard,” he said.

Lee said that the business will welcome and allow customers of any sexual orientation or gender identity, and that in the future, transgender customers will not be asked to leave.

Suising said she is not seeking any financial compensation and does not plan to file any legal actions against the spa, but said she would like an apology, and wants people to know that what happened to her is a form of discrimination that needs to be addressed nationwide.

“I too, think it is correct to prohibit ‘abnormal sexual behavior’ in a public place, but a transgender person just being there, behaving appropriately like any other customer should not count as such,” she said.

There are no provisions in Virginia or Fairfax County’s codes that protects against gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination.

Under the state’s “Dillon Rule,” local municipalities are prohibited from enacting measures such as a non-discrimination ordinances without prior permission from the Va. state government.

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