A transgender Army veteran has filed a lawsuit against a Southern California barber, claiming that his civil rights have been violated.
Kendall Oliver, who served in Afghanistan, was turned away from a barbershop in Rancho Cucamonga after the barber refused to cut his hair and quoted scripture to him.
Barbershop owner Richard Hernandez claimed that his Christian religious beliefs forbid him from cutting a woman’s hair. Paraphrasing the Bible, Hernandez told local news source NBC4, “It is a shame for a man to have long hair. But if a woman has long hair, it is her glory.”
This quote comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 11:15.
Oliver, a transgender man who was assigned female at birth, certainly does not attribute his “glory” to his hair, which he asked to be cut in a traditional men’s style. The Army vet — whose glory is better represented by the sacrifices he made for his country — said that he felt humiliated by the barber’s refusal to treat him like any other customer.
“What I’m looking for today is to make sure this never happens again to someone else,” said Oliver.
Although the average woman will have 104 different hairstyles during her lifetime, getting hair cut or styled is common for anyone, regardless of gender.
Hernandez’s offensive refusal of service, says Oliver, was two-fold: first he denied a haircut to a person based on biological sex, but he also refused to acknowledge Oliver as a man, stripping him of his gender identity. While the latter is not necessarily illegal, it can cause a transgender person substantial humiliation and shame.
Oliver and his attorney, Peter Renn, feel that this case is about more than just a haircut; it is about equal rights and gender discrimination. Renn has emphasized the importance of religious freedom but argues that a person must not inflict his religious beliefs on someone else or use them to deny a person his equal rights.
Michael Helfland, a legal scholar and associate professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, asserted that Oliver’s chances of winning the case are pretty good. Unless the barber operated his shop as a private club for men, Helfland argues, it would have to be considered a public facility and as such cannot discriminate on the basis of sex or gender under California state law.