Woman wearing lesbian tshirt thrown out of US Government building

// 26 August 2008

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A woman was forced to leave a government building in California because she was wearing a ‘lesbian.com’ tshirt.

Los Angeles Daily News reports that Lapriss Gilbert, 31, was stopped by a security guard when she tried to enter the Social Security office. The security guard said that Gilbert’s tshirt, which named an educational and resource Web site for gay women, was offensive.

“As an African-American and a lesbian, I haven’t been through one day without facing some sort of discrimination … but this is just shocking,” said Gilbert.

She said the guard, who works for a private company hired by the Department of Homeland Security, demanded that she leave the building or face arrest.

After being kicked out of the federal building, Gilbert called her mother, Tanya Gilbert, a longtime activist for gay rights.

When Tanya Gilbert arrived on the scene she called the Los Angeles Police Department to protest her daughter’s removal. But before four Los Angeles police officers and one federal agent arrived, Lapriss was told she could come back into the building.

Paul Dumont saw the incident and made a statement to the police, in which he said the guard’s “loud, unreasonable, aggressive and angry approach to the situation almost caused chaos.”

“For her to be told to leave was completely unnecessary, especially considering how peaceful and quiet she was responding the security officers,” said Dumont. “Nobody in that office felt her T-shirt was offensive by any means.”

Lori Haley, a federal spokeswoman for the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – which is under the Homeland Security umbrella – said the guard was out of line: “We believe that the actions of the contract security guard were inappropriate and unacceptable – we have notified his company, Paragon, of our position in the matter.”

[crossposted at Lesbilicious.co.uk]

Comments From You

Eleanor T // Posted 26 August 2008 at 9:43 pm

As a British Expat who recently became a USA National, I can visualise this sort of bum fluff completely. The security guards at the SSA and DHS are usually jobsworths and a bit trigger-happy, so to hear they treated a woman in this way is completely outragous. The SSA is generally a bit shit… truth be told… and the whole system needs a good overhaul. Including their security guard hiring process, apparently.

Ari W. // Posted 27 August 2008 at 3:17 pm

I’m not so sure this is an instance of homophobia as much as an instance of over-strict ‘good taste’. Would that guard, for example, have removed somebody with a t-shirt saying “sex.com” or “heterosexuals.com”? Perhaps the guard was just a prude who would have thrown out somebody wearing a rape-prevention t-shirt?

Wrong? Yes. Bigoted? Maybe not.

Qubit // Posted 27 August 2008 at 3:39 pm

My instinct would be that this is to do with the fact that there is a common hetro male fantasy for lesbians therefore the t-shirt would be consider titillation and too explicit. This doesn’t make it any less prejudice. I would imagine wearing such a t-shirt out would lead to a lot of abuse but I could be wrong. Ari W might also be right that it would happen to any website with such a name. I think their is an assumption with words such as lesbian, gay and heterosexual/straight is that since they describe a sexuality anything containing them must be about sex.

Jess // Posted 27 August 2008 at 4:42 pm

But Ari W – I think that’s a very weird set of comparisons. A t-shirt which read “sex.com” would, you presume, be a porn site. If I saw a t-shirt that read “heterosexuals.com”, I think it’d probably assume it was advertising some kind of dodgy homophobic site. Not that I’d exactly advocate for anyone being thrown out of a building for wearing a t-shirt (unless it had a swastika on it, or something), but the reasons that someone might object to the t-shirt ideas you mention would be very different.

Sorry, but I just think this is a case of obvious and blatent homophobic discrimination.

Shev // Posted 27 August 2008 at 5:28 pm

Hey y’all,

just wanted to point out that ‘lesbian’ does not refer to a sexual act. It refers to a political and personal form of identification.

She was not wearing a ‘heterosexuals.com’ t-shirt, nor was she wearing a ‘sex.com’ t-shirt. Therefore to say that the discrimination she experienced was only to do with a lack of good taste (and I happen to think lesbians taste great, in any case) rather than her orientation is a completely untestable and fallacious argument.

What I find most interesting about this is the security company they’re using – despite the government owning the building, they are refusing to take any responsibility for this behaviour – and you can be damn sure that Paragon aren’t going to care (see all those horrible cases of assault, rape etc in privately contracted security companies working for the US government – all they get are more contracts).

Anne Onne // Posted 27 August 2008 at 6:58 pm

I guess the argument, assuming that sexuality really did play no part in this, is to what extent should another’s taste dictate what someone can and can’t wear? Why should someone be ejected from the building because a security guard is offended by their attire, which is neither indecent (ie they are not naked or flashing), nor insulting in terms of the language? Where does the realm of taboo end and that of taste begin? One may find a slogan tasteless, or not get it, or find it problematic, but that is entirely different to acting as if it is a personal slight.

But I don’t buy that homophobia plays no part in this, simply because it’s impossible to separate the offense that could be taken from the word ‘lesbian’ from the offense at homosexuality, ie homophobia.

The word itself is not a swearword, and no case can be made that it is itself offensive without implying that homosexuality is offensive, and that therefore the feelings of homophobes must be spared from viewing the t-shirt.

Were it a string of swear words, the reaction would be more understandable (if still far too heavy-handed), because many people, for all sorts of reasons, take offense at swear words, and the context of their use can matter greatly.

They are starred out and treated as taboo, and we can analyse the whys and wherefores, but they are luckily in a different class to the word ‘lesbian’. The fact that to some people ‘lesbian’ is as good as a gross insult is rather telling.

Besides, I still think that the issue should stand, even if the T-shirt bears a slogan that I would consider offensive, like one of those awful rape joke/objectifying/generally misogynist t-shirts, I would not think it right to forcibly remove someone from the building for wearing one. Looking away in horror is one thing, expecting anyone with offending garments to be frogmarched off to the police station is another.

Standards of offense differ considerably, and I’d think it would have to be a pretty extreme example to warrant such action. In the end, unless there is a specific uniform for employees, people should be allowed to wear what they wish.

And ironically, we don’t get lots of reports of frat boys with rude t-shirts and women with ‘playboy bunny’ or other lurid slogans sprawled accross their chests getting kicked out.

Qubit // Posted 28 August 2008 at 4:36 pm

I think the point I was trying to make is that (wrongly) the majority of people when seeing a t-shirt for lesbian.com would make the assumption it was probably a porn site. I can see but disagree with the argument of asking someone to leave or cover up for wearing an advert to an explicit site.

The fact that there is the assumption that such a site will be porn or for sexual titillation is obviously a bad sign and something that should be tackled BUT I think it is there.

Joan // Posted 21 October 2008 at 10:57 pm

We can only hope the guard loses his job and instructions are left in his employment file to advise prospective future employers that may ring to check his work history that this individual is violently discrimatory and should under no circumstances be given employment.

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