Reaction was swift last week when the Kavasutra Kava Bar’s Instagram page posted a series of transphobic and sexist comments.
It’s been more than a week, but the comments keep rolling in on both sides. And in at least one instance, the intensity wasn’t confined to social media.
Here’s a quick recap: the business offered a ladies night discount at all seven of its locations – there are five in South Florida, one in Denver and one in New York. The offer was confined to those who “have been women from birth, with ovaries,” the post said.
It didn’t take long for those on social media to respond not only on Instagram, but Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Reactions were vastly negative.
Seemingly in response to the initial blowback, Kavasutra’s Instagram posted this message: “The point of ladies night is to get ladies in the door so the men can bang them. If there’s no vagina then they don’t qualify because they don’t benefit the business and the plan.”
Other transphobic (use of the word “tranny”) and sexist comments followed in several posts, some of which have since been deleted.
‘You’re not really a girl’
Davie resident and Starbucks barista Summer Balester, 21, posted screenshots of the offensive posts on her Facebook timeline. Her friends have shared it more than 2,500 times since July 9.
“I kind of was surprised. I wasn’t really expecting it to reach that many people,” Balester said, adding that the reaction to her post has motivated some to pledge they will no longer patronize Kavasutra.
“The majority of [the Facebook comments] were supportive,” she added. “Even if other people’s views of transgender people didn’t align with mine, they said a business shouldn’t be saying these things.”
Balester, who identifies as cisgender, said her best friend is transgender.
“There were some [commenters] that disagreed, and pretty much seemed transphobic, saying ‘they aren’t real women,’” she said.
Balester said one of her transgender friends called the Lake Worth location of Kavasutra, where owner Dylan Harrison is sometimes seen, to complain about the posts.
“They told her to stop being so sensitive and said ‘you’re not really a girl,’” Balester said.
Balester said she used to go to the Las Olas location in Fort Lauderdale and had good experiences there.
“But I wanted people to know you could potentially not be safe, or be disrespected, or you might just be giving your money to someone you don’t agree with,” she said.
Several attempts to reach Harrison by SFGN have not been successful. Voicemail messages left at the Lake Worth location have not been returned.
On July 11, the business issued a statement on its Instagram page, in the midst of the attention on social media and from the mainstream media.
“Kavasutra Kava Bar is virulently and adamantly opposed to discrimination in all forms. Any such inequity or prejudice will be met with swift physical removal from in or around our establishment. Our friends and patrons understand this policy and our convictions,” the statement read.
Before that statement came out, the uproar made its way off social media and into the Lake Worth location the evening of July 9.
Police and media reports state two women entered the location looking for a confrontation. Harrison, who was there at the time, admitted to shoving them out of the bar. His wife admitted to throwing kava on the women. One of the two women, Tiffany Griffis of Lake Worth, admitted to pepper-spraying Harrison’s wife. In the end, no one pressed charges and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office cleared the case.
Ashley Mayfaire, the director of operationsTransSOCIAL said word of the incident was not surprising, but it was disappointing.
“It was disappointing because I know a lot of LGBTQ people have gone there,” she said.
TransSOCIAL began in 2016 as a way to provide resources and support for the “transgender, gender variant and intersex community.” They meet around the Fort Lauderdale area have a support group that meets in Miami, too.
On July 16, they paired with Talkin’ T and other supporters, to hold a suicide prevention discussion with health care professionals that centered on the trans-community. Statistics show those who identify as transgender have suicide rates that are higher than the general population.
Both Talkin’ T and TransSOCIAL try and get the word out about the “Trans Lifeline” resource at 877-565-8860.
Mayfaire, who identifies as non-binary, is married to a transgender man. She and her husband are the cofounders of TransSOCIAL.
“There are pockets of safe and inclusive places in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, but outside of that, Florida is still the Deep South,” she said, when asked if the area is safe for the trans community. “We get reports that [trans] people can’t even find a hairdresser. We do the best to network so people know where the trans-friendly places are. It’s an uphill battle.”
Find out more about TransSOCIAL at transsocial.org.