The most recent example of strange nightclub policies may erupt into a demonstration this Friday night at the chic Aria Lounge at the corner of Fitt street and Ariapita Avenue in Port-of-Spain, as men in high heels and women in "unfemale clothing" gather to protest an act of perceived club discrimination last Friday against a young woman.
The gathering may be a test, of sorts, of the upscale club's possibly sexist admission policies. The two small protest groups are unrelated and decided independently to act.
Last Friday night, Aria Lounge nightclub staff denied the "ladies only free entry 9.30–10 pm" policy to a female club patron, Shannon Jacob-Gomes, because, according to Jacob-Gomes in an outraged comment she posted to her facebook page on Saturday, the club said she was "projecting the image of a man" and therefore had to pay a man's admission fee. She was dressed in pants and flat dress shoes.
Jacob-Gomes is a young accountant and UWI graduate who is a woman. She was not dressing for shock value, just according to how she felt comfortable, which happened to not involve any miniskirts, dresses, or high heels. She met the club's standards for the male dress code but not for the female dress code. The club did not deny her entry; just requested that she pay the male admission price of $120. She found it discriminatory, and said so to the club staff and later, on a public Facebook post.
Aria's dress code is unclear, but the Internet news site LoopTT in a Sunday December 13, 15.33 post, quoted Aria management as stating:
"We do not allow women into the club who are not dressed in elegantly casual attire which includes no flats, casual wear or shirts. We do not allow men into the club who are dressed in 3/4 shorts, slippers, T-shirts or hats. Ms Gomes attempted to enter the club wearing male clothing and we did not deny her entry, however, she must pay the relevant costs as it will attribute to a male dressed in male clothing...The sole purpose being that, we cannot deny another female entry for wearing flats and in the same breath let Ms Gomes wear flats and obtain entry."
When the T&T Guardian called Aria Lounge yesterday to clarify their position on the incident, they said: "I don't think we have anything to say about that."
Jacob-Gomes described her experience with Aria admission staff last Friday on her Facebook Page as follows: "She (the Aria admissions staff member) reiterated that because I do not 'project the image of a female in heels/flats', she cannot and will not allow me free access to Aria because I am 'not a normal girl' and since I project the image of a man, she has to charge me the male price. She stated that if I do not portray the image of a female I cannot reap the benefits of being a female. She stated that I was in breach of their dress code."
Jacob-Gomes said she deserves a public apology "from Aria's management for the discrimination and embarrassment encountered last night. I never felt so blatantly disrespected in a known public organisation as this before." An Aria staff member has since apologised on social media.
Stephanie Leitch, an outspoken feminist writer and activist, has issued a "Call to action" this week via her Facebook page to all T&T women. It reads, in part:
"We cannot allow nightclubs in T&T to tell women they are–not women, not real women, not a 'normal' woman, not woman enough, too male, or exist too far left of femininity for the sexualisation of the male gaze (as is our duty). I invite all women to join us on Friday December 18 to stage a protest outside the Aria nightclub on Ariapita Avenue at 10 pm. We will wear our most unfemale clothing to disguise our femininity...We will not stand for body policing, gender policing, body shaming or discrimination of any kind."
Activist Ian Royer, a marketing professional, commented: "I have worked in the bar industry before; I was general manager for More Vino for two years. While managers have the right to refuse admission, what is not acceptable is the way they did it.
Attorney Martin George said, "Was there doubt about Jacob-Gomes' gender? If so, did the club ask to see her ID? If her ID proved she was female, then the club would really have no reason to deny her access to the 'females free 9.30-10 pm' policy, unless it was on some other basis such as not meeting a dress code, but they would have to clearly show how she breached that dress code and it should be some publicised code and can't be applied capriciously or wantonly nor in a discriminatory manner so that if it is applied it must be applied evenly across the board."
Another attorney, Douglas Mendes, expressed his private opinion on the matter:
"Aria clearly has unresolved issues about gender and sexual orientation. If women are not allowed in without heels, then Ms Jacob-Gomes should have been denied entry altogether. But they couldn't do that because they would run afoul of their declared policy of not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. So they agreed to let her in, but only if she paid the male price of entry. But that in itself was discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation because it denied Ms Jacob-Gomes the right to express herself without penalty and assumptions made about her sexual orientation.
He added: "There is also this contradiction. The fact that she was not denied entry means that Aria was satisfied that she was elegantly dressed, just not as a woman, which constituted an overly narrow view of what a women needs to wear to be elegant. It suggests that in Aria's view, a woman wearing flats is not sexy, and therefore not female enough. Aria would do well just to require simply that all patrons dress elegantly without imposing different standards for men and women."