A young trans woman was left upset and puzzled after being told she couldn't use the changing rooms at international fashion chain store, New Look.
M (whose name has been withheld at her request) was visiting the chain’s branch in Brixton, south London, England where she spent half an hour browsing, picking up clothes before heading to the changing room.
There, she says, her way was barred by a staff member who challenged her explicitly, stating: ‘Oh, you are a man.’
M attempted to explain she was transgender and just wanted to try on clothes like anyone else.
However, the response was the same: ‘This is a women’s changing room, we don’t have any changing rooms for men.’
Following an embarrassing stand-off, M was allowed to make use of a changing room – but the staff member loitered very obviously outside, making her feel very uncomfortable.
She later explained: ‘I don’t blame the individual, so much as the (lack of) training she seems to have received. But I was made to feel like an “other”. A “different”.’
M then says she contacted New Look’s customer services. After a series of interactions she received a further communication, from the Brixton store, stating they are only a small shop and do not sell men’s clothes and do not have male changing rooms.
On further discussion a customer services representative outlined what appears to be New Look’s policy for dealing with transgender individuals.
According to M, they told her: ‘New Look welcome trans-gendered customers. In stores which have regular trans-gendered customers, store management are encouraged to make regular appointments to open earlier or later to allow customers to have full access to the fitting rooms.
‘Arrangements are made at the discretion of the store management.’
However, according to trans activist, Zoe O’Connell, such a policy, if it limited trans customers to such times, would be unlawful.
She told Gay Star News: ‘The Equality Act 2010 makes it quite clear that trans folk should not be treated differently from anyone else without good justification.
‘“Ick, trans people’ is a common justification. It is not a good justification.
‘As they do not have communal changing rooms, it would appear that New Look's blanket policy on transgender customers – forcing anyone suspected of having a gender variant history to make an appointment outside usual hours – is breaking the Equality Act.’
A spokesperson for New Look told GSN: ‘Everyone – absolutely everyone, regardless of age, size, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender – is welcome to shop at New Look.
‘Everyone who works at New Look wants to make the shopping experience fun – as well as safe, convenient and comfortable. And the great customer service for which we’re admired isn’t just about efficient procedures at the tillpoints; it’s about making every single customer feel that they’re truly valued.
‘Some of our stores do allow certain groups (for example Muslim women or transgender customers) to make out-of-hours shopping appointments to safeguard their privacy. But, as New Look aims to be as inclusive as possible, the brand doesn’t operate a corporate policy unique to transgender customers. We want them to feel every bit as welcome and valued as all other New Look customers.
‘We are truly sorry if there’s been any incident when a transgender customer has been made to feel uncomfortable while shopping with us. Without singling out any one group for positive discrimination, we’re doing all we can to be as inclusive as possible.’
They further confirmed the policy quoted by customer services was intended to reflect an additional service available to trans individuals – not an alternative one, and that this was quite clear from the wording provided.
However, a call to New Look indicates there is still confusion over the policy among their employees.
A customer service agent told this reporter the policy was a trans customer would ‘have to speak to a store manager to go in to store either before or after normal opening hours’.
And to our knowledge, New Look have not yet attempted to contact M, nor apologized to her officially.
Meanwhile, M remains philosophical. She added: ‘All trans people want to be is boring.
‘All I have ever wanted was to wake up one day and be a cis gendered girl. And I guess the reason I was so taken aback by the incident was because in my head, at that point, I was the girl. Not 100%, but I was pretty damned close.
‘But [New Look’s] official policy is that I am someone who their store managers have to make special arrangements for because, in their eyes, I am not a woman and will never, ever be a woman. And I will never be boring. I will always stand out. And I will always make other customers feel uncomfortable in using a closed changing room whilst I use a separate closed changing room several feet away.
‘Still, I cannot get over the thought of, what if this happened to someone who was very early in their transition? Who has only just got out of the closet hell? This sort of thing could set someone back months in their transition.’