PORTLAND — A Portland bar owner has been ordered to pay about $400,000 to a group of transgender people he banned from his establishment last year.
The state Bureau of Labor and Industries’ civil-rights division imposed the penalty against Chris Penner, owner of the Twilight Room Annex, The Oregonian reported.
Eleven people will get the money, with awards ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.
It’s the first penalty imposed under the 2007 Oregon Equality Act, which protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public places. Some other complaints ended in settlements.
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The civil-rights division began investigating the bar formerly known as the P Club last year after Penner left a voice message for one of the T-Girls, a social group for transgendered people that went to the bar Friday nights.
According to the complaint filed with the bureau, the message said: “People think that a.) We’re a tranny bar or b.) We’re a gay bar. We are neither. People are not coming in because they just don’t want to be here on a Friday night now.”
The complaint listed 11 aggrieved persons, 10 of whom present as women. Their legal names are not given.
The T-Girls said they were devastated and humiliated. They said they went to the bar every Friday for two years because they felt safe there — the bartender treated them well, and bouncers walked them to their cars as they left.
“The individuals had found a place at the P Club where they found they could share their lives, their stories,” Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said.
“When that is stripped away, that is an indignity that is severe.”
Penner denied last year that he is biased. He said he had once hosted a weekly dance night for gays and that a gay pool team had practiced in the bar.
But, he said, other customers complained that the T-Girls left the stall doors open and seats up in the women’s restrooms, and business had dropped.
Penner’s lawyer, Jonathan Radmacher, said his client was not surprised by the decision: Avakian brought the complaint, and his deputy affirmed it.
“The writing was on the wall,” Radmacher said, “but we went through the process because we thought it was important that the facts came out.”
In 2001, Portland enacted a law banning discrimination against gay and transgender people in employment and public places.
The Legislature passed a similar ban for the whole state in 2007. Since then, the Labor Bureau has received 182 complaints of discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.