Transgender man ‘absolutely thrilled’ with ​€5,000 award after barber refused to give him haircut

By Gordon Deegan

A transgender man who was awarded €5,000 after a Dublin barber refused to give him ‘a short back and sides’ haircut said that he was ‘absolutely thrilled’ with the outcome.

Lee McLoughlin told the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that when he sat down to have his hair cut at Charlies Barbers on September 24 last, the barber, mistakenly believing he was a woman, replied "I don’t cut ladies hair".

Today, the barbers were ordered to pay the sum after it was found they had discriminated against Mr McLoughlin.

Lee McLoughlin

Mr McLoughlin said: “It is a huge victory for all transgender people and is the best outcome I could have wished for.”

He said that he was ‘shaking with shock” after being refused the haircut at the barbers. He said: "I couldn't believe that this had happened to me."

He said: “I had told the barber that I was transgender. I found the whole thing very upsetting. It didn’t sit right with me and that is why I went to the solicitors. I am happy now that this has established a precedent for transgender people in Equal Status cases."

Mr McLoughlin said that he hopes that the case “will make people stop and think before making assumptions and will raise awareness that everyday discrimination can cause deep hurt”.

A 28-year-old public servant from Walkinstown in Dublin working in healthcare regulation, Mr McLoughlin said that he only 'came out' as a transgender to his family, friends and work colleagues in May of last year.

Mr McLoughlin said that since coming out at transgender “I feel so lucky. I have had such a great reaction from everyone. I have never felt happier or more confident than I do now. I couldn’t be happy until I became my authentic self.”

Mr McLoughlin said that he is currently transitioning and commenced his hormone treatment on September 5 last, only a few weeks prior to the discrimination at the barbers.

Mr McLoughlin said that the discrimination he encountered at Charlie’s Barbers “was an isolated incident for me and has been my first and only negative experience as a transgender male”.

Charlies Barbers were contacted by phone for comment on Thursday but have to respond.

‘We don’t cut ladies hair. I’m sorry.’

Mr McLoughlin told the barber that he just wanted a ‘short back and sides’ and the barber replied ‘We don’t cut ladies hair. I’m sorry.’

Mr McLoughlin said that he then informed the barber that he was transgender and a trans man.

He alleged that the barber proceeded to shake his head and stated, ‘I am sorry, we can’t cut ladies hair. It’s a contract that we have with another hairdresser around the corner, so if we cut a woman’s hair we will be fined.’

Mr McLoughlin had arrived at the busy barbers at 1.05pm and proceeded to take a seat with a number of other men queuing and waited 25 minutes before it was his turn.

Mr McLoughlin told the WRC hearing that the comments by the barber were uttered in front of a number of customers and caused huge embarrassment and distress to him and he left the premises "in shock".

Mr McLoughlin said that the incident has greatly affected him and caused him stress, shame and embarrassment.

Mr McLoughlin was claiming that he was discriminated against under the Equal Status Act by Charlies Barbers on the grounds of gender when he was refused a haircut at the barbers.

The WRC has now upheld his claim with Adjudication Officer, Gerard McMahon ordering respondent in the case, Paula Smith of Charlies Barbers to pay out €5,000 to Mr McLoughlin.

Mr McMahon concluded: “On the balance of the evidence presented...I conclude that the complainant was treated differently because he was transgender when he was refused a haircut by the respondent. This amounts to discrimination on the grounds of gender.”

When questioned at the WRC hearing as to what might have led the barber to take the stance that he did, Mr McLoughlin responded that he was ‘not sure’ as he ‘was dressed as a male’ and ‘was trying my best to appear male’.

Case 'not about money'

Mr McLoughlin said that the refusal by the barber necessitated an emergency counselling session.

When asked about redress at the hearing, Mr McLoughlin responded that the case ‘was not about money’.

He explained it was about the principle and the precedent on behalf of those who might find themselves in a similar scenario in the future.

The barbers apologised for the incident and noted that action had been taken to prevent a recurrence.

In its defence, the barbers stated that the barber in question does not recollect Mr McLoughlin saying that he was transgender and a trans man until he was leaving the premises.

The barbers stated that the barber in question had no training in cutting ladies’ hair and had never done so before.

The barbers also told the WRC that the barber in question when starting his job was instructed that the business lease prohibited the barbers from cutting women’s hair.

The barbers stated that the barber in question did not mean to offend Mr McLoughlin and believed that he was performing his role correctly and protecting his employer.

Solicitors for the barbers contended that a ‘one-off mistake’ does not amount to discrimination.

The barbers stated that it has put in place a policy to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

The barber told the hearing that it did “not intend to treat the complainant in a less favourable manner, as he would treat all women in the same manner. That is, his misunderstanding or misperception of the gender identity of the complainant was an honest belief”.

Charlie Barbers and solicitor for Mr McLoughlin have been contacted to see if they wish to comment on the outcome of the case.

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