Note from Pam: This is a post by Pam's House Blend contributor Autumn Sandeen, who was contacted by the victim in this case to expose this atrocious treatment by a National Rental Car staffer and the Little Rock Police Department. Note: Autumn is currently in Greeley, Colorado covering the landmark trial of the accused murderer of transwoman Angie Zapata for the Blend.
Before I begin to relate the details so how trans woman Sarah Vestal has reported being called a "screwed-up man faggot" by a National Rental Car employee, I need to first explain a bit about transsexuals' transitioning, and how most transsexuals go through at least a short period of time as being visibly trans.
Basically, when transsexuals transition, there is a period of time where most dress and live as members of one's target sex, instead of the sex assigned to one at birth, but because one still has facial and body features that identify one as the sex assigned at birth, a transsexual is visibly transgender.
Sometimes, those facial and body features that identify one as one's sex at birth are corrected with the use of hormones over a few years time. And sometimes too, these features would require surgery or professional procedures -- such as facial hair removal and facial feminization surgery male-to-female (abbreviated to M2F or MTF) transsexuals, or breast removal for female-to-male (abbreviated to F2M or FTM) transsexuals -- if a trans person is to seamlessly "pass" in their target sex. And sometimes, no matter what one does, one never can seamlessly "pass" in their target sex -- and many within the trans community (like me) don't consider passing as the be all and end all of trans experience.
Essentially, due to this period of time whe one is visibly transitioning sexes...Well, trans people don't call this process a transition for nothing.
In the real world, if one is visibly trans, then one often finds oneself on the receiving end of discrimination and verbal harassment. And, sometimes in this atmosphere of discrimination and harassment, violent physical harassment is threatened, and sometimes violent physical harassment actually occurs.
Sometimes, one can't tell if it's anti-gay or anti-transgender hate one is experiencing -- sometimes, that hate is just one and the same thing.
Sarah Vestal's story of an incident at the National Rental Car facility last Tuesday (April 7, 2009) at the Little Rock, Arkansas airport is one where she reports that she was discriminated against and verbally harassed by an employee, and then threatened with physical violence. She reported being called a "screwed-up man faggot" while just trying to return a rental car as someone who is visibly trans.
When she complained to the someone who was identified to her as a manager, the first employee allegedly interrupted the identified manager's and her's conversation about her complaint. The employee Sarah was complaining about reportedly threatened to "take the head off the big motha fuckin faggot" for complaining to the manager, and reportedly cocked his fist back as if preparing to strike her.
Sarah then took the next step of reporting the incident to an officer at the Little Rock Police Department there in the airport by a Southwest Airline counter, but she reported that the officer...
...looked at me crying, and said he could not do anything since the man did not physically hit me.
National Car Rental (sometimes referred to a National Rent-A-Car) and Alamo are both subsidiaries of Vanguard Corporation. In 2007, the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) announced in 2007 that it had entered into a one year partnership with Vanguard Corporation. The press release for that announcement was entitled IGLTA Partners with Alamo/National Rent-A-Car -- Vanguard Corporation has apparently had at least one significant business relationship with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender business organization in the past.
National Car Rental, IGLTA, and the Little Rock Police Department were all called for comment for this story, but none replied prior to the publication of this article this morning.
Here is the text of the letter Sarah sent to the airport police explaining -- in her words -- what occurred on April 7th. There is also follow-up from Sarah regarding the responses from the Little Rock Police Department and National Car Rental regarding this incident.
Re: Threatened Physical Harm at LR Nat'l Airport with No Police Action
Dear Chief Thomas:
Late yesterday morning, I returned a rental car to National Car Rental at Little Rock National Airport. The attendant, obviously noting that I was a male to female transsexual, forced me to park my car in three different spaces, move my luggage twice, then move the car again before he would provide me a receipt for my car rental. During this time, he referred to me as a "screwed-up man faggot" and used other derogatory male terms even though I was presenting entirely as female. (I am a post-operative transsexual who has lived solely as a woman for years.) When I asked for the manager, he pointed at the person in their key booth in the parking lot. He followed me to that person and when I tried to explain what happened, the original attendant interrupted and threatened to "take the head off the big motha fuckin faggot" if I continued with the story. He then took actions which led me to believe he was going to cause me physical harm such as running up to me and cocking his arm as to hit me. The man in the booth yelled at the attendant to stop, but he then chased me into the airport while screaming more threats of bodily harm. This incident was also witnessed by the National Car customer service woman who had walked out of the desk area. She made no effort to help me with the attendant.
With the encouragement of Southwest Air ticket agent, I went straight to the police area near check-in. The officer who was behind the door listened to my story, looked at me crying, and said he could not do anything since the man did not physically hit me. The police officer told me to go back to the National Car rental area and speak to the manager. I went back to the National Car rental office where I was met with rude indifference from the two representatives, one of which witnessed the incident. After making me wait and laughing among themselves knowing what happened, they told me there was no manager and I needed to call the 1-800 reservation number if I wanted to complain.
By this point, I was even more upset. The airport manager's staff did their best to calm me down and took a written report including a copy of my rental agreement. On the way through security, I stopped and tried to speak to LRPD Officer "Mack" so as to understand why they would not help me. Officer Mack rudely told me that if I did not calm down, he would make sure I would miss my flight home. I gave up with him and walked away after asking him his name.
I come from one of the oldest Little Rock families and graduated 2 years after you from Catholic High School for Boys. Never have I received so little assistance from Little Rock police officers. Would you please explain to me why I could be threatened with physical harm in a public area and not receive any assistance from your officers?
Thank you for your assistance with this unpleasant incident.
I talked by cell on Friday afternoon to her, as well as talking to Sarah's friend Abby (who first made me aware of the story), and was given some updates.
First, National Car Rental's email reply to the filing of Sarah's initial complaint:
Thank you for your email. Let me begin by apologizing for all of the inconvenience that this issue has caused you. National is committed to providing exceptional service to all of our customers. The actions of our employee as stated in your email is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Therefore, this email has been documented and will be forwarded to the General Manager of the Little Rock Location for follow up and review with their staff.
In closing, thank you for offering your invaluable feedback, as we are dedicated to become the car rental company of choice.
Seriously, National Car Rental responds to an incident of harassment, anti-gay epithets, and threatened violence by one of their employees by "apologizing for all of the inconvenience that this issue has caused you"? That has to be from a automatic template, as that response seems just beyond the pale for a human, customer service representative to actually state on their own.
Secondly, Sarah told me over the phone that a sergeant of the Little Rock Police Department has become personally involved in investigating the incident at the Police
Captain's Chief's direction, and the sergeant will try and have a copy of the report sent out to Sarah on Monday or Tuesday.
This incident took place in a secure area of the Little Rock airport -- there is likely surveillance footage of at least part of the incident somewhere. It'll be interesting to see if video(s) are released at some point.
Lastly, this coming week, I'm going to be in Greeley, Colorado to cover the Angie Zapata hate crime murder trial. Hearing Sarah Vestal's story late this week reminds me that anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (anti-LGBT) hate can pop up anywhere. These coming weeks I'll be focusing on name-calling, harassment, bigotry, and violence as related to Angie Zapata's life, and her killing.
So with that hate behavior in mind, here's a thought to ponder related to anti-LGBT hate: Although we in the LGBT community think of homophobia and transphobia as two different things, sometimes the haters can't tell the difference between us -- homophobia and transphobia are functionally the same thing for them. Take note that Sarah wasn't called anti-trans pejoratives -- like it or she-male -- but instead the employee reportedly yelled the anti-gay epithet faggot at her.
Any federal hate crimes legislation that doesn't include civil rights and protections on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression just doesn't cover enough range. So, when federal hate crimes legislation comes up for a vote in Congress this year, we need to remember that the LGBT community is one community, and we're often hated as one community.
Contact Information For Organizations Mentioned In This Article:
Note:If you contact any of these institutions listed below, please don't engage in name-calling or four-letter language of your own, or engage in any other form of hateful behavior. That's not the kind of activism here that would be helpful.
Instead, if you do call them, just politely ask about the alleged incident, and ask for their thoughts on it.
International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association
Contact: John Tanzella
Title: Executive Director
Manager - Partnership Development
300 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60654
National Car Rental
600 Corporate Park Drive
St. Louis, MO 63105
Customer Service: 1-800-468-3334
Little Rock Police Department
Scott Whiteley Carter, Public Relations Manager
Little Rock City Hall
500 West Markham Street, Room 203
Little Rock AR 72201