Khloe Perez-Rios’s first instinct was to pull out her phone and hit record.
She started filming as employees at a bar in downtown Los Angeles dragged her co-workers outside. One woman in the video was pushed into a wall after struggling and saying over and over, “Don’t touch me like that.” Another is pulled up from her seat by a man who carries her to the door with an arm wrapped around her neck.
Perez-Rios and her friends said they were aggressively, physically kicked out of Las Perlas on Friday night for defending themselves against a couple who harassed them for being transgender. The insults were bad enough, Perez-Rios told The Washington Post. Then staff forced them outside with people who she said had slapped her friend and threatened to kill them as they waited for police to arrive.
“Why didn’t they keep us safe?” Jennifer Bianchi, the transgender woman shown pushed into the wall, told The Post. “Why did they kick us out like we were trash?”
In a Saturday statement posted to Las Perlas’ Facebook page, Cedd Moses — the chief executive of Pouring With Heart, which owns the bar — described only an “escalated verbal altercation” that “broke out among two groups of guests.” According to Moses, the manager on duty asked both groups to leave out of concern for others’ safety and removed people who didn’t comply with the request, “in accordance with company policy.”
But since then, the bar has faced an onslaught of criticism and negative reviews. The customers kicked out Friday slammed the company for not apologizing or taking actions to prevent a repeat of the incident. And on Saturday, by Perez-Rios’s account, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered outside the bar to protest. They held up signs like “TRANS POWER” and “RESPECT TRANS WOMEN” as the bar reportedly closed its doors.
On Sunday, Moses said in a new statement to The Post that the incident was “not in alignment with who we are.” He said Las Perlas is hiring a new security company that has received sensitivity training as well as retaining outside legal counsel to look at tapes of Friday’s incident and analyze what happened. The company is looking for a community partner to help it going forward, including with training for its staff and vendors.
Las Perlas’ primary concern is keeping guests safe, Moses said.
“We regret that didn’t happen Friday night, and want to apologize to all of our guests including the Transgender community, a community who has come to our bar as well as works there,” he wrote. “We are taking immediate steps to fully investigate what happened on Friday and to address each concern that we’ve received since then.”
Friday’s altercation began during what was supposed to be a celebratory night for colleagues at Bienestar Human Services, a Los Angeles-area nonprofit focused on health issues facing the Latino and LGTBQ communities. Perez-Rios said their group of eight — including four transgender women, two gay men and one gender-nonconforming person — were relaxing after representing Bienestar at an LGBTQ festival.
They were finishing their last bites and drinks, she said, when a man and woman came over to drunkenly lash out.
“They were saying that we are not women, that we do not belong there, that we should get out,” Perez-Rios recalled. “That this was not a bar for us.”
The Bienestar colleagues, still sitting, engaged with the couple. Then the man slapped one of the transgender women, Perez-Rios and Bianchi said, prompting the co-workers to stand up and surround her.
That’s when the bouncers joined the fray, they said.
Members of the Bienestar group said bar staff did not get physical with the couple who harassed their group. They recalled employees telling the man to help remove the woman from the scene; they watched her kick and throw punches as he pulled her away.
On the other hand, Bianchi said, the bouncer who forced her to the door said only “Out!” before getting physical with her. Video capture Bianchi asking if she can get her shoe — she’d lost a sandal in the commotion — as she is pushed toward the exit.
“It was just very humiliating,” she said.
The group reported the couple to police, who are now investigating a potential hate crime.
Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala tweeted Saturday evening that police are “committed to ensuring the safety of every Angeleno, as well as the right of all to live their true lives in peace, harmony, and free from anxiety or fear.”
Department spokeswoman Rosario Cervantes told The Post on Sunday that a “verbal altercation took place” about 10 p.m. Friday but said she could not share more information as it was being investigated, and that the police report only listed one suspect, a Hispanic man.
Perez-Rios’s video does not show the alleged interactions that led up to it, and it ends as Perez-Rios, too, is pushed out of the bar. The bar has not identified the couple.
Pouring With Heart spokeswoman Vanessa Vega did not address questions about the specifics of what happened Friday, saying the business is still investigating.