The other day, after doing a talk at a local middle school’s “Rainbow Connection” group, I picked my wife up from work. Tired after our long days, we headed to the nearest sit-down eatery, a Denny’s. We had a lovely meal, one that in most cases I might recommend.
Before we ate, my wife went to use the restroom. She had to wash her hands of the various detritus she acquired working at a local garden center. Had we known then what we know now, she probably wouldn’t have used that bathroom, and we likely would have found someplace else to have our dinner.
You see, some 360 miles to the south of us, in the heart of Los Angeles, something was brewing in another Denny’s location. Jazmina Saavedra, a conservative candidate in California’s House race in the 44th District, started to stream video on her phone. She also stated that she was carrying pepper spray.
With her phone attached to the business end of a “selfie stick,” she entered the Denny’s women’s room.
Inside the bathroom, a trans woman was in a closed stall. Saavedra entered the room and began to shout at the trans woman, calling her a “stupid guy.” She then waited outside the restroom, waiting for the trans woman to exit.
The manager of the Denny’s also entered the restroom and forced the trans woman to leave. When she exited, Saavedra ambushed the woman. Words were had, with the trans woman claiming that Saavedra had been stalking her previously.
“You’re just singling me out, lady, for no reason. And I seen you yesterday, following me,” said the unidentified trans woman.
“Next time use the men’s room — or nobody’s room,” retorted Saavedra.
The manager of the Denny’s escorted the trans woman off the premises. In a statement from the restaurant, she was not ejected due to her gender identity, but due to “drug paraphernalia on the floor” near her.
The statement also apologizes to the trans woman and other guests for the disrespectful actions of Saavedra, but one thing remains on my mind: The manager did not eject Saavedra for filming in the women’s room.
This particular Denny’s, located at 635 S. Vermont Ave. in downtown L.A., is not a stranger to controversy. In 2016, the same location was sued for asking black customers to prepay their meals. The restaurant opted to settle out of court rather than risk a court trial. They clearly have not learned their lesson about prejudice.
In spite of the corporate apology, we know now that this location seems perfectly fine with streaming in their restroom, and that the privacy of any person in that restroom — trans or otherwise — is at risk.
This incident is exactly what trans people fear. We enter a closed stall to use the restroom only to have another patron, brandishing their phone, call us out for somehow invading their privacy. It is nothing short of abhorrent behavior on Saavedra’s part, who claims she’s somehow the victim of a trans person using the facilities all women are allowed to use.
I find myself wondering, What would happen to me if I walked into a Denny’s women’s room with my phone at the end of a selfie stick, loudly proclaiming that I was going to film a patron inside it? I would expect to at least be asked to leave, if not end my night in handcuffs.
There are virtually no documented cases of trans people attacking anyone in a public restroom. Trans women are there for the same reasons as any other women.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a number of cases of vigilantism and harassment akin to Saavedra’s, most notably Jennifer “BBQ Becky” Schulte calling police on a number of black people barbecuing in Oakland, Calif.; Holly Hylton, a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia who called police on a pair of black men minutes after they arrived; and Aaron Schlossberg, a lawyer who threatened to contact ICE on people at a Manhattan deli who were speaking Spanish to each other.
Yet while Schulte has been called out, Hylton lost her job and Schlossberg has been served with eviction over their actions, Saavedra is seemingly facing no backlash whatsoever. Indeed, she walks free today, even though she clearly broke the law by harassing this trans woman, filming in the restroom (a violation of California Penal Code, Section 632), and may have been stalking this trans woman prior to that evening.
Even though Saavedra faces more than an uphill battle as a conservative attempting to represent Compton and Lynwood, this incident should — in a just world — end her political career. Indeed, she should be spending some time in jail for her actions.
Over the last few years, as arguments about public accommodations for transgender people have heated up thanks to religious and political leaders looking for another group to scapegoat in the wake of marriage equality, we’ve seen many stories of people ejected from restrooms. The majority of these haven’t been trans women at all.
Trans or not, however, we can all face the actions of the next Jazmina Saavedra who decides to play vigilante — and none of us may be safe from being filmed in the women’s room at Denny’s. This is the true danger to one’s right to privacy.
Gwen Smith wishes people would learn to mind their own business for once. You can find her at www.gwensmith.com.