Spa World Refuses to Serve Homosexual and Transgender Customers


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Thanks to all who sent the link about Spa World [Centreville, VA] from Fairfax Times:

The Better Business Bureau opened an investigation, and on Jan. 28, Spa World representative Sang Lee responded to the BBB in writing by stating “It is our policy to not accept any kinds of abnormal sexual oriented customers to our facility such as homosexuals, or transgender(s).”

“Also, for the safety and the comfort of young children at Spa World, we strongly forbid any abnormal sexual behaviors and orientation in our facility. Despite the controversial issue of homosexuality and transgender, it is our policy to not accept them,” Lee wrote.

A petition has started here.

97 Comment

  • oh virginia

  • If you google this place you see a lot of postings/references from “guys” as a place to meet/hookup/cruise with other guys. I would not allow that behavior in ANY business that I have stake in. A lot of gyms turn a blind eye to such explicit activities taking place in the locker rooms, saunas, showers etc. Pretty pathetic if you ask me.

    • Fair enough, but why not ban the behavior instead of an entire group of people? It would certainly be easier for the staff.

      Their response was pretty pathetic too; they pissed off a lot of potential customers by calling a significant portion of the population “abnormal”.

    • No one stopped to consider if the guy was just a perv who put on a wig and baiting suit and intended to go into the locker room and stare all day? Permitting it is too much, and it’s always going to be. There needs to be boundaries regardless of personal rights. There’s just too much potential for abuse, and businesses will lose business if they can’t maintain a certain amount of discretion and rules on this matter.

      If I was a female in that area among a male, I would never feel safe. Equal rights doesn’t permit making others uncomfortable, maybe a 3rd bathroom needs to be invented.

      • Sounds like the easiest solution to the problem would be to simply have customers wear bathing suits.

      • Ignorant as hell comment. Transgender individuals are the sex they say they are.

        • Not if it makes customers uncomfortable and your business loses money. Perhaps if you made all locker and bathroom areas unisex, it would change perceptions and clue people in on what the policy of a gym is in advance, but if pre or post op people of a different genre mixed in space with straight people in today’s world, there would be plenty of discomfort because it’s unexpected. Be realistic.

        • So what stops anyone from saying s/he is transgender? Do we just take everyone’s word for it?

          • That’s the problem. But I don’t think there are THAT many heterosexual creeps in the world that dress up as women while claiming to be trans. Certainly not enough to discriminate against all the non-creepy transfolk.

        • PDMtP

          No, they are the gender they say they are (speaking of ignorance). They are the sex they happen to be. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but to say mommy is obviously a bad person because she doesn’t want her eight-year-old daughter wandering past dangling penises is simple-minded political correctness (a term I generally hate, but this is living down to the stereotype). And that’s before we get to the frat boys who show up in drag and demand to be admitted to the ladies’ side, as others have noted.

          The letter is horribly offensive but a bit of a side show; a biological man walking into the women’s section presents a different issue than a gay woman walking in (where Mr. Lee frankly isn’t going to have a clue that it’s even happened). If he tried to block someone who looked too butch but was minding her own business, I’d be right there with you.

          • They did try to block someone who was “too butch” and minding her own business. I’ve read a number of articles about the BBb complaint that precipitated this response from Spa World. The person who was kicked out is an athletic female with broad shoulders, per her own description of herself. Some press has implied that she is a transperson, but by her own account of the encounter, she identifies as female and her driver’s license also identifies her as such (and she attempted to present the ID to the Spa World staff). This was NOT in any way, shape, or form, a case of a man “pretending” to be a woman for jollies.

          • PDMtP

            Um, trans does mean something here, right? And I’ve read her own words. From the original Fairfax Times article: “None of the complaints, as they were described to me, referenced my genitalia in any way….This has happened to me a few times before in other parts of the country, and perhaps I am pushing the boundaries of this type of discrimination, but I am not purposely looking for controversy.”

            Now, maybe you have solid info (and a source) that says she’s post-op, but that sure doesn’t sound like it to me.

          • I haven’t read anything that specifies either pre-op or post-op (and we’ve probably read the same sources), but you specifically mentioned “dangling penises,” (which none of the coverage I’ve seen has mentioned) and raised the hypothetical scenario of “frat boys who show up in drag and demand to be admitted to the ladies’ side,” which is not at all the same type of situation and seems designed to inflame readers’ fears and misconceptions about what it means for someone to be transgender. If an individual identifies as female, is living their day-to-day life as female, and is recognized by the state on their official state ID as female, then who cares what stage of transition they’re in. Let me point out that children in this setting at Spa World would already be surrounded by dangling breasts and female genitalia, so is it really so terrible if one female has ambiguous or in-transition or “different”-looking genitalia, provided that they’re not acting in a predatory or sexual manner.

          • PDMtP

            Look, you can read “pushing the boundaries of this type of discrimination,” her blog with multiple presentations and discussions of how gender identity should be completely independent of physical genitalia, and a studied evasion of the topic by someone who’s pretty clearly a media-savvy activist and think “oh, clearly no male genitalia here” if you want. I think that’s pretty naive.

            You can also say “the notion of sex-segregated facilities is antiquated” if you want. What you can’t say is that no biological woman can want to be in a nude facility with biological men and no parent can want young children hanging out with opposite-sex adults that are, well, hanging out – and remember, this all started with other customers who felt that way – without being evil and discriminatory. That’s a rather arrogant dismissal of perfectly legitimate beliefs others hold, and if your position is “no one can complain about anyone else’s nudity” it’s way less persuasive than the heavily spun headline narrative here.

            My rule of thumb? If you have to be evasive about what’s really going on, your position probably isn’t that good.

    • Actually, you sound pretty pathetic. Let’s ban you from this site.

  • bfinpetworth

    How in the hell would they know someone was gay? I mean, do they ask???

    Virginia is such a backward place. I do everything in my power not to spend a dime in that state when at all possible. The only time I’m forced to is when visiting my parents in Va. Beach.

    • Not sure what’s more of a gross generalization, Spa World’s statement or your posting.

      • Virginia IS a backward place in many ways. I don’t think that’s a generalization but a fact.

      • If this happened to a DC establishment I could take comfort in the fact that it would be boycotted to death and subsequently go out of business. But in this part of VA I doubt that will happen. We might choose to boycott Spa World, but the people that live closer and go there more often probably don’t care or even applaud the management’s decision.

        • So I guess there’s not a problem then.

          • For Spa World, no. I guess that’s why they didn’t put any thought into their response– they will still get plenty of customers so it doesn’t matter to them.

        • I think it would also be illegal to do this in DC since sexual orientation is a protected class. But I’m not 100% sure.

        • It would also be illegal in DC. The fact that it is not illegal to discriminate like this in VA is a perfectly sound basis for calling VA backward.

        • “This” part of Virginia? It’s freaking Centreville, not rural Virginia. A suburb of DC.

          • If you define a suburb of DC as a place that people commute to DC from, than yes. But then there are also parts of WV that fit that description.

            Besides, a place can foster a culture of bigotry and not necessarily be rural (I find people that live in truly rural areas tend to be more open-minded, actually).

    • “… Spa World representative Sang Lee…”

      Looks more like a conflict between two left-oriented trends: urban progressive values, and multi-culturism.

      • Yes it is cultural. The Koreans and Korean families that like to bring their children to the baths, would probably be happy if gays boycotted and stopped going to spa world and stopped gawking at people in the baths. As a straight guy that has been going there for years and has seen the trend of increase of guys just sitting in the baths and staring, I’d probably not mind either if Spa World were not more as it was several years ago. That said, the response and solution suggested is not appropriate as all orientations do, and should, have the right to enjoy the establishment. The suggestion that behavior should be forbidden, not orientation, makes sense up to the point that it is very difficult to monitor and enforce behavior rules except for obvious actions.

  • What will be their method of screening out LGBT people? It’s not as if that population carries IDs indicating a status.

  • they are walking back this comment to reflect the fact that they don’t allow sex in the spa…. they aren’t denying the incident with the visitor from Cali, however…

  • My question is: why spend money at an establishment that discriminates? I understand what they’re trying to do with the petition, but does changing those policies really make you want to give them your money?

    • I agree. There are plenty of businesses in the region that treat their customers with respect, so why give your money to one that doesn’t?

    • I was thinking the same thing. For a case like this, why petition for them to change? There is no way I’d ever spend my money at a place like this even if they did change their policy.

  • GO to craigslist m4m personals and type in SpaWorld.

  • “Let our people go!”

  • I understand that they apparently have a problem with people having sex in their locker rooms/sleeping rooms, etc. And I have absolutely no problem with them trying to stop that kind of behavior. But that isn’t what the above incident is about. They kicked out a trans woman simply because of how she looked. She wasn’t doing anything. And their policy on not accepting any “abnormal sexual oriented customers” to their spa, while legal, is disgusting and pathetic.

    • How do you figure that policy is legal?

      • It’s legal because Virginia doesn’t have public accommodation protections for gay and trans people. Meaning, you can be kicked out of an establishment simply because the owner doesn’t like gay people.

        • Are you guys sure about that? IANAL, but I thought that being in a protected class means that a policy cannot inadvertently discriminate against your class, even if that wasn’t the intention. I thought that explicit, intentional discrimination was still illegal.

          • Yep, I’m sure. Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes in some states, but not all. Virginia is one of those states that do not include SO or GI in their anti discrimination laws.

          • Right – but that’s what I’m saying. I didn’t think they had to be protected classes in this type of situation.

            I mean, if you’re sure, I’ll take your word for it… I guess my semester of HR law didn’t stick. =o

          • PDMtP

            Okay, I admit it. “IANAL” gave me a Beavis and Butthead moment. I don’t think you can have that on your license plate in the District, and Spa World definitely won’t let you park in their lot.

      • i’m pretty sure that yes, you can discriminate against sexual orientation. that’s legal.

        crazy, huh?

    • I thought they kicked “her” out because she was in locker rooms and areas for women only?!

  • Too bad. I’ve been to Spaworld a handful of times. It’s a cool place. I’ve never seen other guys scamming or hooking up – nothing like that. Spaworld has a pretty chill scene. I don’t know why they’d go a screw it up with something like this.

  • I love the naivete in the spokesperson’s statement.

    It’s like, “OK, everyone, take it easy, it’s our *policy*. It’s not like we’re discriminating or anything. There are a lot of complicated issues, so just to be on the safe side, we’re keeping all the weirdos out so we don’t run into any problems.”

    Such an interesting combination of bigotry and cluelessness.

  • I’ve been to Spa World–everyone is naked since the pools are sex-segregated, so how would there be any questions as to her gender?

    • “Transgender” covers a lot of ground. And clearly, by some of the postings here, there are people who believe all someone needs to do is say, “I’m a woman” — regardless of the genitalia present.

      What woman wouldn’t be somewhere on the surprised-to-freaked out spectrum by seeing a person with a penis in a sex-segregated area?

      • Out of everything you read, the fact that this woman “has a penis” was completely made up in your head. Not based on facts at all. That’s sloppy of you. You don’t know the difference between pre and post op and you don’t know much about this situation. It’s sad that you’re jumping to inane conclusions.

  • Thank god there’s a petition. That oughta straighten this out.

  • There’s an update on this story from City Paper. Allegedly, Spa World meant to say their policy is that they do not allow sexual activity (of any kind), not that they are banning LGBT people generally. Backtracking? Maybe, but that’s what they are saying.
    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2013/03/01/spa-world-admits-it-kicked-out-transgender-woman-says-it-wont-do-it-again/

    • Too late.

      • Knock it off. Not every business that has yet to “evolve” on this issue deserves to be run into the ground if they try to change their position.

        • exactly.
          so many places on this earth have businesses that engage in discrimination. our goals should not be to destroy those businesses but to encourage them to change.
          even the US government requires pressure to ensure civil liberties are provided.

        • Ok, so I should feel welcome and comfortable there as a gay person now that they changed their policy. Got it.

          • Your post gave no indication that you were making a nuanced point about your personal feelings of acceptance at Spa World, and I’m still not sure if you’re saying “too late for me to feel comfortable” or “too late and they should be run out of business”.

          • Sorry, I didn’t think it made a difference. I’d like to think that even if I were straight I’d care enough about gay people to avoid businesses that make insensitive statements about them.

          • So you think they should be run out of business. Fair enough.

            I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in this story, and I think it’s at least plausible that they have had enough issues with sex in the sleeping rooms that they may have said the wrong thing trying to issue a statement that assures their customers it’s a “safe” environment, whatever they think that means. I also think that most people, myself included, are not sure where self-identified gender gets a full access pass at a place like this, which is quite atypical in American society. I don’t think this is as cut-and-dried as, say, a restaurant refusing to serve a transgender customer– although I am open to arguments about why I might be wrong about this.

            I think we’re looking at cultures colliding here, and as is often the case, it’s not extremely beneficial to yell “too late”! and call for their heads when sensitivity training and open dialogue/diplomacy might be more effective and appropriate.

          • I’m sorry, but if you call a group of people “abnormal” I don’t think sensitivity training is going to help you much. You’ve already shown your bigotry.

    • Huffpost had the update too. PoP in fairness, you should update to include that they are saying that it was a miscommunication and that they were not intending to ban LGBT folks, only sexual activity of any kind. People can make their own judgments about whether this is just backtracking.

  • I usually go to the spa to get away from kids. I would be more uncomfortable having a kid watch me relax than an adult.

    • Sorry, but women have every right to get weirded out if a mtf transgender “woman” is getting naked with them, especially pre-op. Pre-op mtf transgenders are basically just men on hormones.

      • You have an issue with the human body. Your discomfort shouldn’t affect people’s livelihood. Stay home if you’re that disturbed.

    • Well then you wouldn’t like spa world anyway. It’s more of a public bath house and less of a traditional spa. Kids and grandmas and everyone in between.

  • I don’t know why Spa World is being so anal about their policies. Right?

  • As a gay male who frequents SpaWorld myself and has spent some time in South Korea, I do believe (and thought from the start) that this was all a gross misunderstanding where communication broke down along language and cultural barriers. I do believe that they have a generally inclusive policy and maybe didn’t handle the situation with the trans woman as diplomatically as possible and certainly should have proofread that statement before it went out, but I believe James Lee when he says, “Spa World’s policy is to allow customers of any sexual orientation or gender identity.” I certainly understand and appreciate the concern about people being treated unfairly for no good reason, but I would also warn against creating a tempest in a teapot and rather encouarge people to be open and flexible when dealing with language and cultural differences. As for the people who are using this as an opportunity to bash transgendered folks, I would encourage you to inform yourselves on the issue before making too many assumptions. As for the CL m4m ads, many of them just suggest meeting up at SpaWorld and mention nothing about doing anything there and those people that do use it for cruising make me just as uncomfortable as any other heterosexual and need to be removed for their behavior, not their identity. I’ve seen straight people doing some pretty disgusting things in public too, fwiw…

    • “I would encourage you to inform yourselves on the issue before making too many assumptions. ”

      You have literally said nothing. Perhaps you should explain why a pre-op mtf transgender (which is just a MAN on hormone pills) should be allowed in a women’s-only nude area. I’ll be waiting.

      • For instance, where did you receive your information about the fact that this person was a pre-op transexual? I have read every article on the topic I could find so far and have not seen any reference made to the state of her transition. In fact, she says in her comment on Yelp that the complaints were based solely on her physical build and not the appearance of her genetalia. That would be a good place to start fact gathering…

      • And you have literally failed in your use of “literally.”

    • Distrix, thank you so much for your well worded response. I’m 1/2 Korean and spent my childhood in South Korea and when I read the statement and the following comments, I felt so sad. I too feel that this has been spun into a frenzy where I think much of the problem comes from language and cultural misunderstandings. There were many times at the grocery store or bank that an attendant would get frustrated with my mother’s English and start to become harsh which would fluster her more – anyways, you’re response was very healing to this fractious discussion.

  • I had no idea so many people from DC drove out to Centreville to get naked and sit with a bunch of other people in an indoor pool.

    sexuality and gender identity issues aside, why is this so popular? Everyone is just hanging out naked?

  • i love spa world. was just there today!

  • I mentioned this on the rant/revel thread the other day, but in addition to the discrimination itself, Spa World’s response was pretty dreadful, and made this former communications professional cringe. If this really was all a language-fueled misunderstanding, Spa World needs to hire a Korean-English bilingual PR person (surely some exist somewhere in the DC region) who understands social media ASAP. I think it’s since been deleted, but Spa World’s original response on their Facebook page was something to the effect that before critcs of the discrimination posted “ignorant” comments, they should know that Spa World meant to tell the BBB that it does NOT discriminate. Yeah guys…way to call your customers “ignorant” for failing to magically intuit that your owner ostensibly MEANT the exact opposite of what he WROTE in his response.

  • Ridiculous! In this day and age, too. Just, wow. This is why ENDA needs to be passed NOW!

  • Well, I guess it is Crew Club for me now… :)

  • I think the more telling thing here is the SpaWorld rep referring to LGBT individuals as ‘abnormal’. That, and the fact that you can be denied service or fired from your job for being (or being perceived as) LGBT in VA.

    If the thought of someone else looking at your body terrifies you, then cover it up. Become a never-nude. Stay in your own shower at home. Don’t push your fear onto others.

    Lastly, stop trying to pretend that straight people aren’t hooking up all over the place too. Including off of craigslist. Everybody is having sex all over everything.

  • As a gay man this offended me, I’ve frequented this establishment and quite frankly, I was made more uncomfortable by the children than the gay cruisers. Who wants to walk around naked in front of children in this American culture? But, this statement does not seem like it was anything lost in translation and I am not persuaded by the backtracking. “Abnormal” was said, how could that have been a glitch in communication? Please. They are bias and I will not be returning. Sad that we have places like Chick-Fil-A and spaworld who don’t accept people for who they are. Sad we have states who don’t protect civil rights and liberties. This culture, unlike the Korean one, is overly sensitive about the human body which is why this SHOCKS ME coming from them. I doubt there is a huge issue of penis’s in the female section or women walking around with dildos in the mens section. This is my first time hearing of any gender “inappropriate” issues there. Yes gay men post on CL and cruise there, but they don’t have sex there.

  • The initial response from the SpaWorld representative was disappointing to me especially because I was looking forward to trying out the spa and now have made my choice to not try it out any time soon and I’m a Korean-American. The first response from the rep. reflecting the owners’ opinion(s) on sexual partner choice was more information than they should have shared but they did and it’s good to know their true feelings. It’s good they didn’t have a PR person covering up their true beliefs. I don’t believe they should be run out of business but I certainly will not consider being a customer until there is a major change in policy/attitude and the change is felt by all the people patronizing this business. Yes this means non-heterosexual clients will need to continue to test the spa waters they just won’t have my new business….. I hope one day the SpaWorld owner(s) learn to accept and tolerate all types of people who live on this planet. And my opinion is that many Koreans and Korean-Americans are homophobic and taught to be this way. There are many Christian Koreans on this planet and they believe what the Bible tells them. Korea is also one of the world’s most homogenous countries… in the process of change/progression along with their skyrocketing economy. With this cultural distinction in process of evolution also come the painful words of a people not educated in the social/sexual progress made outside “The Hermit Kingdom.”

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