When you walk into the grocery store to complete your shopping list for the week, the last thing you expect is to encounter harassment and be refused service. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Cassandra Hefton in Miami Beach, Florida this summer.
A transgender woman and U.S. military veteran, Cassandra had been a shopper at Sabor Tropical Supermarket for years with no issue. One day, a manager asked her to leave the store. Jarred, but assuming it was a random occurrence, she left; over the next few weeks, she returned and shopped without incident. However, on one of these trips the same manager saw her and again asked her to leave. Cassandra, with her phone at the ready, caught the altercation on camera.
“I was bewildered,” she said. “I’ve never done anything wrong. I’m always polite.”
As she filmed the manager, she repeatedly asked why he wanted her to leave the store. His stock response was, “I don’t know.” But according to Cassandra, the manager repeatedly misgendered her, and she believes she was being discriminated against because she is transgender. When she went to check out, the cashier told her that per the manager, she was not allowed to sell Cassandra her items.
“We need to speak out. As a community, we have made great strides, but we need to keep doing the work of winning hearts and minds.” — Cassandra Hefton
During the recording, the manager can be seen calling the Miami Beach police. Luckily in the city, a local non-discrimination ordinance ensures protections for LGBTQ people from discrimination in places of public accommodations (as well as housing and employment). When the police arrived, they spoke to the manager and informed him he could not refuse Cassandra service because of her gender identity, and she was allowed to pay for her items and leave.
“The Miami Beach police are great supporters of the LGBTQ community,” says Cassandra. “They explained to the manager – you can’t just tell people you can’t come in and shop.”
Following the incident, Hefton sent her video to SAVE, South Florida’s oldest organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ rights. They subsequently contacted the store’s owner, and according to deputy director Justin Klecha, “They’re taking the problem very seriously.”
Cassandra wants people to understand how serious an issue anti-transgender discrimination is, and the reality that discrimination based on gender identity or expression happens all too often. Although there are protections in her city, as well as 200+ others nationwide, she knows not everyone is as lucky to live in a place where this is true.
“This is a daily thing for transgender people,” she said. “We need to speak out. As a community, we have made great strides, but we need to keep doing the work of winning hearts and minds. This is a teaching moment, and I’m grateful to have made it one.”