Samantha and Magda arrived at Café Havana and upon seeing an empty table outside asked a nearby waiter if they could take it. The waiter did not quickly respond. Instead, he looked at the two women and with a smirk on his face said, “Madumi eh. (It’s dirty.)” then walked away. Puzzled at the waiter’s reaction, the women decided to proceed inside to look for a table. At the door, their path was blocked by a bouncer who told them, “Bawal kayo dito. Bawal ang cross dressers. (You’re not allowed here. Cross dressers are not allowed.).”Appalled, Magda and Samantha tried to argue with the bouncer telling him that they were not cross dressers but women. The bouncer just looked away as if he did not hear anything. Feeling helpless, the two decided to walk into the mall first to blow off steam. That’s when they decided to call me.
I immediately contacted Sass Sasot, Ang Ladlad* member and co-founder of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), told her about the incident and asked her to kindly check on the girls as she lived closer to Makati. Sass gladly obliged and went to Greenbelt 3, met the two and accompanied Magda to the office of Mr. Dennis Galimba, Operations Engineer of Ayala Property Management Corporation. There, Magda wrote and filed a complaint against Café Havana. Mr. Galimba assured Sass and Magda that all Ayala Malls including Trinoma, Alabang Town Center (ATC) and Ayala Center Cebu are strictly enforcing a non-discrimination policy. A security officer from the Operations Engineer's office then dropped by Café Havana to speak to its Manager, Mr. Vic Panganiban about the incident.
On my way to Makati I alerted several other members of Ang Ladlad, including Rey Banag, Anne Lim, Atty. Lynley Salome, Atty. Angie Umbac, Atty. Germaine Leonin and our national Chair, Danton Remoto. Danton right away contacted members of the Larry J. Cruz (LJC) Chain of Restaurants which owns Café Havana to inform them of the incident. Danton told them that if Café Havana’s discriminatory policy is not removed, Ang Ladlad will raise the issue to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and start a media campaign against the restaurant. Members of the LJC Chain of Restaurants immediately conducted an investigation into the matter and assured Danton that they would do everything in their power to rectify the situation.
When I got to Makati, the complaint had already been filed by Sass and Magda. I along with the three other girls then proceeded to Café Havana to speak with its manager, Mr. Panganiban. I introduced myself, showed him my Ang Ladlad ID card and asked him to explain what happened. The manager said what happened was a mistake and apologized to all of us. He also asked the erring waiter to apologize to Magda and Samantha. I told Mr. Panganiban that Café Havana has become notorious for refusing entrance to trans women which not only goes against the Ayala Mall’s policy of nondiscrimination but also codes of human decency. I then asked him to issue a written apology that will also say that their establishment does not discriminate. Mr. Panganiban agreed and even offered us girls the VIP treatment. We politely declined but told him that we would take him up on it another time.
I hope that this will be the last we will hear of Café Havana and its anti trans policy. I am so happy that through our concerted effort, something has finally been done about this. It had to take two women from Cebu who refused to be mistreated to make this possible. I hope Magda and Samantha will serve as an example of people who will stand up for themselves, who will not cooperate in their own oppression, who will assert their right to be treated with dignity and respect and more importantly, their right to be themselves.
*Ang Ladlad is the national organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, bakla/bayot/bantut, tomboy and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos. Visit http://www.angladlad.org/.