A local salon owner’s stated refusal to serve certain LGBTQ customers has disquieted a Northern Michigan city. And now the blatant discrimination could soon be headed into a courtroom.
TRAVERSE CITY—City officials in Traverse City are looking into possible violations of a city anti-discrimination ordinance at a local hair salon this week after its owner posted on social media that some members of the LGBTQ community are not welcome at her business.
The post from Studio 8 Hair Salon owner Christine Geiger, which has since been deleted, said anyone identifying as other than a man or a woman should “seek services at a local pet groomer,” and went on to say they “are not welcome at this salon.”
Geiger, 48, has since doubled down on the bigoted remarks in multiple interviews—including one with the Associated Press, where she maintained that Michigan’s small business owners should be free to discriminate against their customers as they see fit.
Both Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and the state Department of Civil Rights have since fielded several complaints over Geiger’s stated refusal to serve certain LGBTQ people, officials said. A spokesman for Nessel told The ‘Gander on Wednesday that the legality of Geiger’s “hateful” and “bigoted” social media remarks—and any future actions by her based on those remarks—would “likely be litigated” in a courtroom.
On Thursday, city attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht told the Associated Press that her office would also investigate complaints against the salon “based on the relevant legal standards”—including Supreme Court rulings and Traverse City’s 2010 ordinance barring discrimination on numerous grounds, such as sexual orientation and gender identity.
The “full-throated bigotry” at Studio 8 Hair Lab, as Chasten Buttigeg described it on Twitter this week, has since drawn criticism from across the globe. Locally, state Rep. Betsy Cofia (D-Traverse City) and Traverse City Mayor Richard Lewis are among those who’ve spoken out, and a large crowd of demonstrators were spotted chanting and carrying signs outside of the salon on Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement, Coffia said Geiger’s comments reflected “breathtaking hate and bigotry.”
Lewis also added: “We are disheartened to hear of any discriminatory behavior in our region. The City of Traverse City has valued itself on providing a safe environment for all people.”
Geiger’s new salon policy arrived just days after the US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of a Christian web designer in Colorado who refuses to build websites for same-sex weddings.
The Supreme Court ruling, which has been billed as a devastating blow to LGBTQ protections, found that businesses that sell “expressive” goods (like website design services) are shielded by the First Amendment from being forced to provide services to LGTBQ couples.
But it did not create a “not a blanket invitation to discriminate” in Michigan, officials said.
In addition to local ordinances that ban discrimination, a spokesman for Nessel’s office has also pointed to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act—which still “remains available” to help defend the civil rights of Michiganders and to crack down on discrimination, he told The ‘Gander.
In March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation that added new protections in the law to specifically shield against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The Department of Attorney General will continue to fight to protect the equal rights of all Michiganders,” according to a statement from Nessel’s office. “Any Michigan residents experiencing discrimination may file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.”
Geiger told AP that while she agreed with the Supreme Court ruling, it didn’t motivate her new discriminatory salon policy. Instead, she said the move was motivated by personal experiences and objections to schools and doctors informing children about gender identity matters.
Geiger has also referenced civil rights legislation that aims to expand protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, echoing false claims that it would also create criminal penalties for misgendering someone by using the wrong pronouns.
Republican lawmakers, like House Leader Matt Hall, have also amplified those lies.
No such legislation exists.
Sam Inglot, director of Progress Michigan, said the misinformation from Republican lawmakers has one purpose: to pit communities against one another so the GOP can divide and conquer.
“Republican House leadership and the far-right fringe of their caucus are now singing from the same song book and it’s a tune that only seeks to sow division and distrust for political gain. House Republicans are showing their disdain for the LGBTQ+ community and any and all efforts to protect their rights,” Inglot said in a statement. “But time and again, Michiganders have shown they are on the side of freedom and equality, not bigotry and discrimination.”
Geiger told AP that she has been a licensed hairstylist since 2006 and has never knowingly rejected a transgender person’s request for service. The salon does not take walk-in clients.
Jack Winn, CEO of a Texas-based hair products company whose merchandise Geiger has used and promoted in her salon, said Thursday he disapproved of the discriminatory business stance, and that he severed ties with Studio 8 after receiving more than 1,600 emailed complaints.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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