Case illustrates need for Texas gender-marker law, LGBT advocates say
A local transgender woman who recently was denied access to a Louisiana casino is claiming discrimination.
But representatives from the casino and the state’s Gaming Control Board said establishments can bar people from entering if photos on their identifications don’t match their appearances.
Jody Pleasant, 31, of Dallas has been living as a woman for five years. On June 3, Pleasant, her male lover and two gay male friends went to Boomtown Casino & Hotel in Bossier City, La.
However, because Pleasant’s ID indicates that she’s male, the man working the door wouldn’t let her in, she said.
“He said if you’re a man, then you have to look like a man to come into our casino,” Pleasant said. “We were just dismissed, totally. It was a blatant display of discrimination to me.”
Pleasant, as a female impersonator whose stage name is Kandy, is unable to get her ID changed because she has not undergone transition surgery and Texas has no gender-marker law. However, she said on the day in question, she was not dressed “provocatively” and looked similar to the photo on her ID.
To add insult to injury, Pleasant said, the man working the door required her to stand in front of his podium where she was mocked by other entering guests. She said she waited there for 10 minutes for a manager, who confirmed she would not be allowed in.
“They were all staring and pointing, and it was just a very demeaning situation to me,” Pleasant said.
Pleasant said it’s the first time she’s had an issue with her ID not matching her appearance, including at airports.
In response to the incident, Pleasant said she sent the casino a certified letter and called a another manager but received no apology. She said she also has contacted Lambda Legal. After being denied access to Boomtown, Pleasant and her friends went to another casino and were allowed in with no problem.
Max Mills, director of casino operations for Boomtown, indicated that the state’s gaming control act requires establishments to ensure that appearances match IDs to prevent access by people such as those who are underage.
“We have to be black and white, by the book. Either the person’s ID is representative of how they look or it isn’t,” Mills said. “We want everybody on the boat [casino], but then again if the gaming act says something, we have to follow it scrupulously.”
Mills denied that discrimination was behind the decision, adding that many LGBT people patronize the casino.
“I’m sure it was a very embarrassing situation, and I feel bad about that,” he said. “Hopefully our guys had tact and had a certain amount of good manners and appropriate language and so forth.”
A spokesman for the gaming commission, who asked not to be identified, was unable to cite a specific section of the lengthy act that could be interpreted to require that appearances match IDs. However, he also said the act gives casinos the leeway to set their own policies.
“Any business operator can exclude certain people based on their own judgments and rules,” the spokesman said.
Paul Scott, executive director of Equality Texas, said it’s unlikely Pleasant would be able to change the gender marker on her driver’s license until she has undergone transition surgery. Even then, she would have to take the matter to court, where the change may or may not be approved depending on the judge.
A comprehensive gender-marker bill was introduced in this year’s legislative session but failed to make it out of committee, Scott said. The bill would have allowed people to change their birth certificates, names and driver’s licenses with affidavits from doctors saying they are undergoing transition surgery.
“The Department Of Motor Vehicles, they want acceptable ID, so there’s not any opposition from the department itself. It’s more so just coming up with a set, definitive policy that’s covered by state law,” said Scott, adding that advocates have been working on the issue for roughly a decade. “It’s a matter of getting the Legislature educated.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 3, 2007