After two queer-identifying women were asked to leave by security staff at an event held at the Asado restaurant on the Corner last week, students and restaurant management have been working to rectify the situation.
Students who were at the event last Friday said security escorted the two women, who were seen kissing in a booth, out of the restaurant, noting that the behavior was comparable to public displays of affection by heterosexual couples in attendance.
Kiersen Mather, a third-year College student who witnessed the event, said security was not responsive to attendees’ insistence that the students would not have been removed if it had been a straight couple in the same context.
“It was pretty clear, given the amount of other PDA in that space, that it was being selectively applied to a queer couple in this instance,” Mather said.
Students proceeded to question the guard about any security policies that would warrant removal for public displays of affection and questioned his authority in comparison to that of law enforcement. Students report that he responded he was law enforcement, but off-duty, and that he later refused to show a badge or give his name to confirm his affiliation with the police.
As the attendees realized that the guard was lying about having the authority of the Charlottesville Police Department, they called the CPD non-emergency number and officers were dispatched to the scene.
The security guard was put in handcuffs and eventually released without charges. According to CPD, the officers who were dispatched did not find any information on the scene that gave probable cause to make an arrest, but the incident was still under investigation.
The owner of Asado, Kevin Costello, was not present for the events but has been working to address the situation in its aftermath. Costello met with students who organized the event the following day and explained that any discrimination that did occur by security was not a reflection of Asado’s values.
“Everybody is welcome here,” Costello said. “That should never be a thought that they're not. And if there's anything that we can do to show that, then you know we would love to hear how we can do it.”
Costello said that when he checked camera footage he was unable to confirm any claims as to what initiated the couple’s removal, as the area of the restaurant where the couple was located when security came to escort them out was not visible to the camera. However, he said that Asado will not be working with the security provider, Delta Force Security, in the future.
The incident initiated conversation surrounding the sense of belonging for LGBTQ+ individuals in public spaces on the Corner.
In the immediate aftermath, students expressed dissatisfaction with Asado staff for neglecting to address the security guard the night the events unfolded.
One student involved in planning the event said that, after discussion with Costello, they refrain from directing blame at Asado, as it was a third-party security service the restaurant hired for the night. However, they did express hope that in the future, restaurants will consider establishing clear guidelines and trainings with staff and security regarding how queer patrons can be guaranteed fair treatment.
“I think this was just an event that escalated those conversations, and pushed it to the forefront,” they said. “But I think that tension or that lack of belonging, or the disconnect between the Corner and the queer community at U.Va. has been there and has been discussed before, just this was a more extreme example of queer people being excluded from spaces on the Corner.”
The Queer Student Union and the University’s chapter of the gender-inclusive honor fraternity Pi Sigma Phi both issued statements in response to the incident.
The letter by QSU called attention to the exclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals from public places and the lack of safe spaces for queer people. They called on Asado and other businesses on the Corner to take measures to guarantee an inclusive environment for all students.
“We demand that management at Asado, and all bars and restaurants on the Corner, take greater care to provide a safe and affirming space for all patrons,” the statement reads. “Specifically, we demand that all staff at these establishments be trained to respect and provide equitable services to all individuals of marginalized identities.”
Pi Sigma Phi also noted the role these establishments have in fostering community safety, specifically suggesting that restaurants and bars review protocol and contracts with security providers in the future to prevent any similar instances of discrimination.
“Moving forward, the Charlottesville community must recommit itself towards making all spaces inclusive, both on and off Grounds, and honor the responsibility we have to include and protect one another,” they wrote.
Costello expressed a desire to meet further with any such student group to discuss how businesses may better accommodate students who feel marginalized and “better identify situations when discrimination is taking place.”
In light of the events, Mather said any future changes to create safe spaces throughout the community will likely begin with students leading the initiative. She compared this to the implementation of Hoos Got Your Back active bystander trainings throughout local businesses to combat sexual violence.
“That was not a restaurant initiative, that was students on Grounds, pushing for restaurants to actually make a safe space for survivors of sexual assault,” Mather said. “That was very much a student push. I think that it would have to be the same social pressure for this kind of safe space.”