A recent incident at Dillard’s in Southgate Mall has members of the local transgender community considering a boycott and protest of the local department store.
While shopping with two biologically female friends during the holidays, Mercury Johnson, a transgender female, claims a store manager asked her to leave the women’s dressing rooms. According to Johnson and Jodi Finnicum, who was present during the incident, a clerk escorted the three friends to the dressing rooms, which were also being used by another female shopper. Without any noticeable complaint from the other shopper, Johnson and Finnicum said two Dillard’s managers stepped in, admonished the clerk for allowing them into the dressing rooms, and then one of the managers asked Johnson to leave.
“I was made out to be like a Peeping Tom, like I was some sort of sicko for being there,” said Johnson, who exited quickly in order to avoid a scene. “When [the manager] approached me, the thing was, she said, ‘Ma’am, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.’ She said ‘ma’am,’ but then said they didn’t allow men in this dressing room.”
For Johnson the issue boils down to personal safety, as well as her personal rights. She fears that trying on clothes in a men’s dressing room could put her in danger, and she doesn’t understand why some stores—Ross, for instance, has always been very welcoming—act with sensitivity toward transgender shoppers, and others do not.
A local Dillard’s manager refused comment and referred questions to Jim Benson, regional director of sales and promotions. Benson also refused comment, citing possible legal concerns, but said he’s unaware of any Dillard’s policy regarding the use of dressing rooms.
“This happens all the time, everywhere, and not just at Dillard’s,” Benson added. “It’s not uncommon, for instance, where a man will go in and follow his wife into a dressing room, and that can be a discomfort to customers. We try to keep those things segregated.”
A representative for the Western Montana Gay & Lesbian Community Center, board member Caitlin Copple, said she was unaware of the specific incident but familiar with similar cases of transgender discrimination. “We believe a person should be able to use the dressing room and bathroom of their expressed gender without humiliation, harassment or fear of reprisal,” Copple said.
Johnson isn’t sure if she’ll pursue the matter further. She spoke out only after friends prompted her to discuss the issue, and said she’s unsure if she’d follow through with some form of demonstration at Dillard’s.
“I am discriminated against daily,” said Johnson. “I’m used to it being a person of difference. All I want, I guess, is awareness. I want people to understand that we are part of this community too.”