Nicholas Gorham, a transgender person, was turned away from the women's changing room at Urban Outfitters despite protests

By Julie Mazziotta
September 23, 2016 05:00 PM
Credit: Walt Cessna

A transgender customer at an Urban Outfitters was turned away from using the women’s changing room at a Los Angeles store.

Nicholas Gorham, who identifies as a gender-fluid trans person, was shopping with a female friend when they went to try on women’s clothing in the women’s changing room. The attendant immediately led Gorham’s friend to a room, but started to take Gorham to a separate area.

“She could feel the awkwardness and offered: ‘Well the thing is there are young girls over there so I can’t really…’ ” Gorham, a New York-based actor and performance artist, recalls in a post for Mic. “‘Uh, OK,’ I replied, ‘Well, I’m trans.’ ”

“‘I know,’ she said. ‘It’s just that it’s the policy.’ ”

The attendant then agreed to give Gorham a changing room in the women’s area, but at the opposite end from his friend on the very edge.

“It just felt like a huge slap in the face to the entire trans and queer community and all the progress that’s been made over the last years,” Gorham tells PEOPLE. Unlike New York City, where people can use whichever bathroom or changing room best fits their gender identity, Los Angeles has yet to pass a law of that nature.

Gorham, who is most comfortable with the pronouns they or she, says they felt tongue-tied in the moment.

“I felt quite paralyzed by the whole experience and wasn’t thinking clearly enough to make those subtler points,” they say. “That’s one of the problems with these kind of public situations, it’s embarrassing to be put in a position like that and our society teaches us not to ‘make a scene’ so it becomes a constant assessment of how much to stand up for yourself and how much to let slide.”

Gorham contacted Urban Outfitters about the incident, but says their reply was a “pretty unsatisfactory response to all of this.”

“They’ve said they are sorry that I felt ‘uncomfortable’ which, in my view, is a pretty laughable response. At this point, they seem to be taking it as a relatively mild issue,” Gorham says.

In the meantime, Gorham is finding comfort from others.

“I’ve received a tremendous outpouring of support from both friends and strangers alike,” Gorham says. “There’s been some hate hurled at me on Twitter, but I’ve been able to let it roll off my back. Blocking people is a big help.”

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“I have a very tight knit creative family at ‘the Studio’ where I study acting and they have all rallied with their undying support. My coach and mentor at the Studio, Brad Calcaterra, very often discusses cyber bullying and our personal responsibility as artists to come at situations positively and not indulge in the other stuff.”

And Gorham hopes to address the issue again with Urban Outfitters.

“I hope to talk with them more about it and come to a resolution that everyone’s happy with,” Gorham says. “I see no great benefit in going on a negative attack and hopefully they will come around and agree that a respectful dialogue is best. I think that’s the best way to achieve real lasting growth in our world.”

In a statement to PEOPLE, Urban Outfitters said their fitting rooms are gender neutral and that the store did not follow official protocols:

“We take all customer feedback seriously and were very surprised and concerned that our official protocols were not followed in one of our stores.
Our fitting rooms are gender neutral and open to our customers who are trying on our products. We apologize and deeply regret this shopper did not have a positive experience and are looking into why our policies were not followed. Furthermore, we do not endorse any laws that discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and we have supported charities that are actively fighting the anti-LGBTQ HB-2 law in North Carolina. Again, we will immediately determine how and why our policy was not followed consistently and we regret any uncomfortable experience our valued shopper may have had.”