Local Wire

Tempe Tavern Apologizes for Kicking Out Local Transgender Woman

Briana Sandy, the local transgender woman who was kicked out of Tempe Tavern over the weekend after being denied service, got an official apology from the management of the bar and music venue Monday.

Tempe Tavern manager Robert Tasso offered a public mea culpa to the 55-year-old Gilbert resident regarding the much-publicized incident during a press conference inside the bar Monday afternoon, as well as a handshake and an open invitation to return any time in the future.

“I'd love to apologize if you felt you were slighted in any way,” Tasso says. “We welcome all kinds of people in this business. We have many gay customers. We have transgender performers.”

But though Sandy seemingly accepted the apology and Tasso mostly was smiling throughout of the press conference — which was arranged by her attorney Benjamin Taylor and local civil rights activist the Reverend Jarrett Maupin –—there was still some contentiousness afoot. And according to Sandy, the issue hasn't been put to rest just yet.

Tasso, for instance, couched his apology in statements alluding to his belief that portions of Sandy's story about the incident were “possibly fabricated,” including the portions in which she claimed a Tempe Tavern bartender told her, “We don't serve your kind drinks.”

“I'm ignorant to the whole [transgender] thing, how it all works, but in no way did we ever mean to discriminate against you,” Tasso stated during Monday's press conference. “And obviously we have a little discrepancy about what was said, but I offer you the deepest apologies and you're more than welcome to be in our business any time you want.”

Sandy rolled her eyes during Tasso's statement and later told New Times after the press conference that she didn't embellish her story of being refused service by a bartender when she came to Tempe Tavern on Saturday, June 6, to watch the Belmont Stakes horse race. Sandy says that a Facebook post she wrote following the incident, which went viral and set off a swarm of outrage nationwide, was a truthful recounting of what happened to her at the bar, despite what Tasso has said.

Tasso also reiterated his belief that the whole incident was an “"error in judgment” by their bartender on duty at the time, an unnamed 20-year-old female, who mistook Sandy for one of the prostitutes that he claims have prowled the area near Tempe Tavern in the past.

“It was basically an honest mistake made by the [bartender] because of certain things we have in our area and it was a lapse in judgment. The girl's 20 years old, she's worked here a [week and a half], and she confused Ms. Sandy with somebody else that does certain things around our business,” Tasso says, adding that the bar will educate its staff in transgender issues to avoid situations like this from happening again.

He hopes to put the whole matter to rest with the apology but also took another swipe at Sandy's recounting of the incident.

“I just hope everything's resolved, I don't want to get into 'he said, she said,' if that even applies here. There's some things that I don't agree with, there's some things that are possibly fabricated, but I'm not into that,” Tasso says. “I want to apologize, its all behind us, a mistake was made, and that's it.”

Sandy and her supporters, however, aren't ready to put the issue in the rear view just yet. Although both Maupin and Taylor, who stood alongside the transgender woman at the press conference, say that they accept Tasso's apology, they're still mulling over whether to take further civil action. That includes filing a complaint with the City of Tempe over the incident, which they believe was in violation of a municipal anti-discrimination ordinance that makes it illegal to “exclude individuals from an opportunity or participation in any activity” due to their race, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, or other reasons.

Maupin also stated that both sides were seeking "an end to the violent threats” which have been made towards both Sandy and Tempe Tavern in the wake of the incident.

"There have been threats made against Ms. Sandy, there have been threats made against this establishment, people saying they want to do physical harm or other acts of violence or harassment,” Maupin says. “I don't think that either side, even though they disagree on some of the facts, wants people to act violently.”

If Sandy chooses to file a complaint with the city over the matter, which would have to be done within 45 days of the incident, the bar would be hit with a fine ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 if its found to be in violation of the ordinance.

“City of Tempe has an ordinance not to discriminate. [Sandy] walked into the bar and she wasn't served,” Maupin says. “That's discrimination. That's wrong.”

Taylor agreed.

“We accept the apology from the manager today and we're going to see what we can do from here on,” Taylor says. “This could be over, this might not be over.”

And for Sandy, its not over. She's still irked at being mistaken for a prostitute, for instance.

“I've already been really defamed. They thought I was a prostitute,” she says, “Well, I was probably the most unsexy prostitute that was wearing a blue jumper sundress and Clarks sandals, so not exactly what I would call somebody who would be attracting clientele.”

When asked at the press conference if Tasso's apology was enough, Sandy says it wasn't.

“Like I said, they thought I was a prostitute, then they thought I was a customer next door at the adult [bookstore]," she says. "Even if I were either of those things, how does that make me any less worthy to be served?”

Needless to say, Sandy has no plans to return to Tempe Tavern anytime soon, despite Tasso's offer, which included him saying, "Next horse race, [the] drinks are on me."

"To be honest with you, it was a little spooky walking into here [today],” Sandy says. 

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.