Steven Havard files discrimination complaint against Terry Costa after owner told him policy was based on thefts by male customers in the past
A drag performer from Oklahoma has filed a discrimination complaint against a Dallas retailer after they refused to allow him to try on a gown.
Steven Havard, aka Stacey McBride O’Neil, of Tulsa, filed the complaint this week, under the city of Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance, against Terry Costa, which has a store at Preston Road and LBJ Freeway.
In a letter responding to O’Neil’s allegation, the owner of Terry Costa acknowledged that the store does not allow men to try on gowns.
“I was made to feel like a second rate person when I went into Terry Costa,” O’Neil said. “I made a nearly five-hour drive to try to find a gown for the Miss Gay Oklahoma America Pageant and was treated like dirt.”
Tina Loyd, the owner of Terry Costa, was out of the store for the week and not available for comment.
On May 11, O’Neil drove with his partner from Tulsa to buy a gown to compete in the Miss Gay Oklahoma America Pageant. He asked friends where he should look.
“Everyone recommended Terry Costa,” O’Neil said.
When they got to Dallas, they stopped at the North Dallas store first.
“An amazing consultant helped,” he said.
She told him there was a private dressing room where he could try on a gown.
But he said nothing he saw on display immediately blew him away and they decided to look at a few other places. The sales associate made it clear that there would be no problem trying on the gowns before buying one.
When he returned in the afternoon to Terry Costa, he was told the saleswoman who helped him earlier had left for the day, so he went over to the section with his size and picked out a dress. That’s when the manager came over and looked at him in disgust, he said.
“‘We’re not going to make any accommodations for you in our store,’” he said she told him.
She said she would let him buy a dress “if you have the money,” but he couldn’t try it on or return it.
“My jaw hit the floor,” he said.
He said he wasn’t going to buy a $1,300 gown without trying it on, so he hung up the dress and walked out. From there the couple drove home to Tulsa.
When he contacted the store about his experience, Loyd sent him a letter of explanation.
In her letter, Loyd explained her “experience with male clientele.”
“Several years back,” she wrote, “we noticed a sharp and dramatic increase in theft.”
She connected the increase in theft to an increase in male customers.
She claimed a staff member attended a pageant one week after an expensive dress was missing from the racks. A man, who had been in the store and tried the dress on, was wearing it on stage.
“There he was, competing in the very dress he stole from us, a dress that had not been widely distributed or available for order,” she wrote. “He didn’t even bother to take the pins out we used to fit the dress since it was too big.”
Loyd said she asked the police for help with the theft problem but didn’t receive any.
O’Neil said Loyd’s explanation was even worse than the original insult. Now he felt he had been accused of being a thief.
When he returned home, he contacted the Dallas Fair Housing Office, which handles discrimination complaints. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. Each violation is punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Ken Upton, Lambda Legal supervising senior staff attorney, said the argument that a drag queen stole from the store so they won’t serve any drag queens cannot be supported legally — at least not under the city’s ordinance.
What if a black person stole from the store so it maintained a policy of never serving blacks, Upton asked.
Upton sympathized with the plight of a small business owner facing theft from her business. He said there’s no argument that theft is illegal. But so is not serving one customer based on what another customer has done.
After posting his story on Facebook, Corey Martin contacted O’Neil and offered to make a gown.
Although they had never met, they were already Facebook friends. Martin now lives in Dallas but worked on Broadway as a costume designer and has created dresses for a number of area performers.
“It didn’t surprise me it happened,” Martin said.
Because of his experience designing and sewing dresses and gowns, he has applied to work at stores advertising for tailoring help. He’s been refused employment because of his sex.
“‘You can’t work here,’” he said he’s been told. “‘You’re a man. Women don’t feel comfortable in a fitting with a man.’”
Martin said when he’s shopped in high-end fabric stores, he’s had similar experiences with store personnel not trusting a man looking at material for women’s gowns.
He said store clerks have followed him around the store.
But he suggested that as part of the solution to making a sale rather than losing a customer or risking theft.
Instead of store clerks making fun of the drag queen, he said, one of them should help him.
In her letter to O’Neil, Loyd wrote she found “inexpensive gowns that were not our own hung in our garment bags.”
Martin suggested most stores do not allow customers to bring bags into the dressing room and some stores limit customers to one item at a time in the dressing room.
O’Neil said he’d drive back down to Dallas for his fitting with Martin and then again to pick up the dress before the Miss Gay Oklahoma pageant in June.
Nine years ago, O’Neil said he was diagnosed with cancer. He overcame it but six months ago the cancer returned. At his latest check-up, the cancer was again undetectable. That’s when he decided to make a run for the Miss Oklahoma title.
Over the years, he has been involved in a variety of charity fundraisers. He said it’s been a dream of his to represent one of the national pageantry systems and hopes the notoriety of this event doesn’t spoil his chances.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 24, 2013,