Wilton Manors Restaurant Stands Up For Transgender Waitress
At New York Grilled Cheese restaurant in Broward, Mia St. Louis is the type of waitress who will stop and bust a move to whatever music is blaring from the speakers.
She says she loves this job, even if sometimes she has deal to with transphobic customers in the gay-friendly Wilton Manors neighborhood.
St. Louis, a transgender woman of Haitian descent, said she’s heard customers she’s waiting on whisper to their friends, “You know that’s a man,” or “It’s a he.”
“I can’t be like, ‘Screw you,’ or anything like that. I’m working,” she said. “My job is to give everyone a great experience, but on the inside, I’m breaking down.”
But last month, a customer upset over a long wait on a busy Saturday night was not so easy to ignore.
According to St. Louis and a manager who was there that night, the customer started to scream about the wait and then verbally attacked Mia calling her transphobic slurs and male pronouns.
“It was in front of everybody,” said St. Loius. “Even people who didn't know that I was transgender now know I’m transgender because she just outed me in front of a whole room of people.”
Two days later, another woman took to the restaurant’s Facebook page and said while the food was good, she wouldn’t return because it only has “transgender bathrooms.” Both bathrooms at the restaurant are labeled “gender neutral.”
Owner Leor Borak said he immediately went to social media to address both issues, the angry customer who misgendered Mia and the review lamenting gender neutral bathrooms.
The restaurant posted a “Love Mia” graphic as its Facebook profile photo and apologized for the long wait that upset the customer, but also wrote, “We do not, however, apologize for defending our employee. New York Grilled Cheese is proud to support LGBTQ individuals from all backgrounds.”
Borak said he won’t stand for customers attacking his employees with hate and needed to make that clear publicly.
“We can’t let them bring us down to their level,” he said in an interview with WLRN. “And like our great First Lady said, ‘When they go low, we go high.”
Borak, a single dad with a daughter, also said it was a no-brainer that the restaurant would have gender neutral bathroom for parents like him, gender nonconforming individuals and older people with caregivers of the opposite sex.
“All those people get affected by these things,” he said.
Borak said while New York Grilled Cheese has gotten hundreds of messages and phone calls of support for its stance, some are calling for a boycott because it’s a transgender-friendly space.
St. Loius, the transgender waitress, said she won't let the negative comments and incident get to her.
She grew up in a strict Haitian household with parents who didnt accept her when she came out to them.
“My father called me all the names in the book before,” she said. “There’s nothing worse that someone can say to me.”
She’s still estranged from her father and is rebuilding her relationship with her mom.
Meanwhile, at New York Grilled Cheese, St. Louis said she’s found an extended and accepting family of co-workers and managers who she says, "Always have my back."
“They have protected me from seeing the negative comments and negative things people have to say about what’s going on. I don’t have to see the hatred or experience the hatred again,” she said. “They’ve been very protective of me.”