Last Oct. 19, Louis Marasigan, a municipal councilor for Batangas, posted a couple of TikToks detailing her experience at Zara’s BGC branch. Visibly upset, Marasigan says she was barred from using the women’s fitting room because she was trans, with the staff insisting she use the men’s fitting room.
The staff told her they feared other customers would complain, though as Marasigan points out, she and her sister were the only customers at the time. But even if there were other customers in the store, it still shouldn’t have meant prohibiting her from using the fitting room. “Hindi ‘yun ‘yung point. Hindi kasi ako lalaki. Trans woman ako,” Marasigan says in the video.
@luismarasigan @ZARA its 2022 wake up no to GENDER DISCRIMINATION #LGBT #SOGIE #transitioner ♬ original sound – Angelo Marasigan
The staff member who barred her from entering reasoned out that it was company policy, which many pointed out does not make sense. Inditex, Zara’s parent company, has existing gender inclusive policies that state otherwise.
The videos have since racked up over 10 million views cumulatively, with queer figures like Mela Habijan and “Drag Race PH” runner-up Marina Summers defending her and expressing their sympathy over the discrimination she faced.
“I didn’t know it was gonna go viral,” Marasigan says to Preen.ph in an online exchange. “[I] only posted it for my friends and followers to see.”
An example of transmisogyny
There’s no sugarcoating it: Marasigan’s experience was a clear example of the discrimination that trans people face. It was transphobic. Trans people should be allowed to enter the fitting rooms that align with their gender; meaning, trans women should be able to use women’s fitting rooms and trans men should be able to use men’s fitting rooms.
But more importantly, this is an example of transmisogyny. Transmisogyny—the specific discrimination, hate, and misogyny that trans women in particular face—is real, and we’ve been seeing an uptick of it with transphobic ‘activists’ (who author J.K Rowling has aligned herself with) painting trans women as inherently violent and thus should not be allowed in women’s spaces.
If you’ve seen people who’ve otherwise presented themselves as progressive then claiming bio-essentialist notions of womanhood, aka reducing womanhood to our body parts, this is why.
Trans women are women and so should be allowed to enter women’s spaces. This is not up for debate. This isn’t something you can just chalk up to a difference in opinion.
Unfortunately, transphobia proliferates even within the queer community. Marasigan points out in the video that the branch’s manager she talked to was gay and did not try to take her side. “I’ve learned through this experience that not all queer people want to support queer people,” she sadly tells Preen.ph. This is a reminder that as queer people, we need to be each other’s allies.
Protect Pride, inclusivity, and equality
Of course, this is also an example of the corporatization of Pride and companies not putting their money where their mouth is. Zara attends Pride events, posts “Happy Pride!” on their socials, and even released a Pride collection. This incident suggests that at the very least, they’ve outwardly presented as being queer-friendly without training their staff to be inclusive or made it extremely clear within the company that transphobia will not be tolerated.
This isn’t the first incident of this kind that has happened to Zara, either. In 2016, a nonbinary trans customer in the US filed a complaint with NYC’s Commission on Human Rights after being barred from the men’s fitting room multiple times at a different Zara locations. The customer was told that they were not allowed to use it as they were “not a guy.”
The company eventually reached a settlement in 2020 and reported that they would post notices in their stores reminding employees that customers should be allowed to use the fitting rooms matching their gender identity, train their employees to be more inclusive, and create an employment program for trans, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people.
In 2015, Zara’s former general counsel filed a discrimination lawsuit against the brand, alleging that he witnessed anti-Semitic and homophobic behavior while working for the brand. He also claimed he was “ultimately fired for being Jewish, American, and gay,” according to Reuters.
In 2021, a former Zara employee in Scotland claimed she was falsely charged of theft and faced bullying because she was trans. While the court ruled there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove whether or not she was discriminated against based on her gender identity, it did agree that she was not guilty of theft.
A welcome update
Marasigan posted an update on her TikTok last Oct. 21 saying that Zara’s global office reached out to her. They invited her to visit the branch once more to see how the staff is being trained. While on the call, she asked if the policy barring trans women inside women’s fitting rooms exists, which they denied. She also brought up Inditex’s gender-inclusive policies and asked if Zara “was willing to make it clear to all the branches in the Philippines that trans men and trans women can enter the fitting rooms that they identify as.” The company said yes to both points. (Trans women, they make it happen.)
@luismarasigan Replying to @Angelo Marasigan LGBT community tagumpay naten eto! Habang nag iintay pa ng durther updates mula sa @ZARA ♬ original sound – Angelo Marasigan
While this could be an example of local offices not properly enforcing a company’s international policies, the fact that there are multiple reported cases around the globe makes us wary.
As of writing, Zara’s Philippine chapter has not reached out to Marasigan, though she tells us she’s “looking forward to making changes with them” when she visits the branch, as she’s decided to take up Zara Global’s offer.
To be clear, it should not have gotten to this point. It should not have taken a trans woman to experience discrimination at their branch and speak up for Zara to start making changes. And while this particular incident happened at Zara, we hope other companies aren’t breathing easy and patting themselves on the back. This should be a wake-up call for every corporate entity.
More importantly, this transphobic incident highlights the need to pass the SOGIE Bill. Once passed, the bill would protect the LGBTQIA+ community from discrimination. It specifically addresses incidents where people are discriminated against based on their gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation. (So yes, straight and cis people, this applies to you as well.)
“Queer people are people and we should have the same rights as everyone,” Marasigan writes to Preen.ph. The right to not be discriminated against is a human right and should be given to all.
“Grabe pala talaga ang homophobia here and closed-mindedness,” she says. “But I don’t dwell [on] the negative. I [have been staying focused] on the positive and the people that support me.”
Zara is open to air their side on the issue.