The ACLU Foundation of Southern California sent a demand letter Tuesday to Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival organizers on behalf of two transgender siblings who were refused access to restrooms that corresponded to their gender identities at last year's festival headlined by Beyonce at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.
"California law protects every person's right to access restrooms based on their gender identity," said Amanda Goad, an ACLU attorney and one of the two signers of the letter. "Unfortunately, security personnel at last year's Coachella Festival were sending the opposite message, making transgender people feel unwelcome and unsafe."
The letter sent to Anschutz Entertainment Group and its subsidiaries, AEG Presents and Goldenvoice, calls for changes to prevent similar incidents in the future, specifically asking that AEG establish and enforce clear policies "so as to allow transgender people (like everyone else) to use the restroom or other facility that corresponds to their gender identity as required by California law."
The policies should apply not only to Coachella, but also to other AEG events and properties, including Staples Center, the Shrine Auditorium and the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, and the Stagecoach country music festival held annually in Indio, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU said the hope is that the matter can be resolved amicably and promptly -- the next Coachella festival is less than two months away -- but the siblings are prepared to seek redress via the courts if not.
Within hours of the release of the letter, it appeared that might have occurred.
In a statement this afternoon, Coachella Festival organizers said the Huskey siblings' "experience is unacceptable and why we are taking deliberate steps to ensure that this does not happen to anyone else."
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"This is not reflective of the safe and inclusive festival culture that we strive for, and this behavior is intolerable," the statement says.
"We are challenging ourselves and our patrons to do better and be better with the creation of our 'every one' campaign for this upcoming Coachella."
The organizers pledged to have male, female and all-gender restrooms; to "deploy trained ambassadors throughout site" and have trained counselors stationed in the tents, and to conduct staff trainings.
The Coachella website notes that any form of assault or harassment will not be tolerated and those in violation of the policy will be removed from the festival. Law enforcement may also be notified of the violation and offenders will have their wristband revoked without a refund.
Organizers also said they were reaching out to the siblings "to help us perfect" the program.
ACLU officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they were satisfied with the organizers' response.
"The treatment I experienced when trying to access the bathroom at Coachella was so far beyond embarrassing, it left me speechless," 31-year-old Donavion "Navi" Huskey, who identifies as a transgender woman, said of her experience last April at the music festival held annually at the Empire Polo Club.
"It was especially abhorrent at an event purported to promote inclusion, diversity and authentic expression, especially as it welcomed its first black woman headliner," Huskey said.
The day after Huskey was refused access to the women's restroom by security personnel, Taiyande "Juice" Huskey, who identifies as transmasculine, was confronted by a guard and was told to leave the men's restroom, according to the ACLU. The 29-year-old said the experience made him feel "stripped of all my dignity and embarrassed in a way that really made me feel like less of a person."
The ACLU alleged that AEG has demonstrated a pattern of discrimination against transgender people, citing as examples a transgender woman allegedly pulled from a women's shower line at Coachella and a transgender woman removed from a women's restroom at Staples Center.
The letter outlined legal objections to how the Huskey siblings were treated and cited California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which states that all persons "are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever." The law is further bolstered by civil codes that note the definition of "sex" includes, but is not limited to a person's gender, including gender expression, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU wants AEG to create a written policy guaranteeing all patrons access to restrooms and other facilities based on gender identity, and to provide related training to Coachella 2019 staff and contractors -- along with personnel at all other AEG venues and events.
The letter asked that those policy materials be shared with the ACLU by March 6 in preparation for the Coachella festival that begins the weekend of April 12.