A group of transgender women were forcibly removed from a bar in Los Angeles on Friday night after two other patrons yelled anti-trans slurs at them, and now police are investigating a possible hate crime.
The trans women, who are employees of the nonprofit Bienestar Human Services, were out celebrating the DTLA Proud festival at the bar when the incident occurred, one of the victims, Khloe Perez-Rios, told BuzzFeed News.
Two customers, a couple, began harassing them, she said. According to Perez-Rios, the patrons shouted slurs at the women, including telling them in Spanish, "You are all dudes" and calling them "faggots." The couple also allegedly threatened them with violence, saying, "We will come back and kill you."
The male patron then slapped one of the trans women, and "we all huddled around her to protect her," Perez-Rios said.
"Our first instinct was to get the bully away from us," she said. "The couple was very drunk and they became more aggressive."
The bar responded to the incident by kicking both parties out. In viral video of their removal, bouncers are seen wrapping their arms around the victims' chests and necks, forcibly dragging the victims out of the bar, and pushing them out the door.
"Don't touch me like that!" one of the victims can be heard yelling in the video. The incident that led up to their removal was not filmed.
"They left us out on the street with the aggressors when the police hadn’t event arrived, and after the aggressors had threatened us to come back and kill us," said Perez-Rios.
The couple left when they heard police sirens approaching, she said.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson Drake Madison told BuzzFeed News the department is investigating the incident between the victims and the couple as a hate crime. They are investigating one suspect involved in the incident, Madison said. He would not comment on the second individual Perez-Rios said participated in the attack.
"Once outside the bar, the suspect threatened to come back to the location and shoot the manager and transgender individuals. The victims stated they were in fear of the suspect," Madison said.
In a statement on Las Perlas' Facebook page, bar owner Cedd Moses described the incident as "an escalated verbal altercation [that] broke out among two groups of guests." He said the manager asked both parties to leave "as the safety and security of our patrons and employees is our top priority, and we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior in our establishments."
"The guards removed the guests that were not compliant with the manager's request to leave and did so in accordance with company policy," Moses said. "This was a rare and unfortunate incident as Las Perlas has provided an inclusive and welcoming environment since it opened almost 10 years ago."
Mayor Eric Garcetti said his office was working with the Police Department on the investigation.
After video of the incident went viral, people on social media urged the community to "#BoycottLasPerlas."
On Saturday, many people held a large protest outside the bar.
Moses said he would donate all profits from the weekend to Bienestar Human Services. The bar is also hiring a new security staff that has received sensitivity training, and will review tapes of the incident to determine "exactly what happened and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again."
"Our first and primary concern, and has been from day one, is to operate a safe place for all people. Period, no exceptions," a spokesperson for the bar said on Facebook. "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."
Transgender people, particularly trans women of color, face exceptionally high rates of violence and murder. So far in 2019, at least 16 trans people have been killed violently. Perez-Rios knows these statistics and said she "see[s her] community being killed almost every day."
"It is always scary as a trans woman when someone bullies you out in public," she said. "You never know if that person will physically hurt you, or if they are just being jerks.
"This is the first time I felt any one of us trans women that night could have been one more trans woman killed in the country," she added. "I'm glad we are not planning a vigil."