In a development likely to surprise LGBTQ activists, Nellie’s Sports Bar announced in a statement released on Friday that it has hired longtime D.C. transgender rights advocate Ruby Corado to serve as a manager at the bar in a newly created position of Director of Community Engagement.
In the same statement, posted on the Nellie’s website by owner Doug Schantz, Nellie’s issued a formal apology to Keisha Young, a 22-year-old Black woman who was dragged down a flight of stairs at the bar by a security guard during a June 13 incident that was captured on video and went viral on social media.
The incident, which started during a fight between Nellie’s customers and security guards, has triggered a month-long series of protests against the bar by LGBTQ and racial justice activists.
Corado is the founder and executive director of Casa Ruby, the D.C.-based LGBTQ community services center that offers bilingual programs for the LGBTQ Latino/Latina community and has a special outreach to the transgender community.
“To be clear, we are very sorry that this horrible incident occurred, and we are sorry for what happened to Ms. Young, and we apologize to her for how she was treated,” the Nellie’s statement says.
The statement reiterated an announcement in an earlier statement that Nellie’s released shortly after the June 13 Pride weekend incident that it had terminated its arrangement with a private security company for which the guard who pulled Young by her hair down the stairs had been employed.
The latest statement released on Friday says Corado will “assist in ensuring that all of Nellie’s staff receive ongoing diversity and sensitivity and inclusion training – with a focus on the concerns of LGBTQ+ people of color.”
Corado, who showed up at Nellie’s on Friday night, found herself in the midst of yet another protest outside the bar and the subject of criticism by some of the protesters who told her she should be joining them in the street rather than working for Nellie’s.
“What I feel today is that after my conversations with the owner, that he is willing to listen to the community, to act to make this space a place where everybody feels welcome,” Corado told the Washington Blade while standing on the sidewalk outside Nellie’s 9th Street entrance.
“And that’s why he brought me on board,” Corado said in referring to Nellie’s owner Schantz. “And that’s why I came on board, because I do feel that, once again, I can talk to the community, engage them and listen,” said Corado. “And he did say that he is acting on the concerns of the community.”
Schantz has not responded to repeated requests by the Blade for comment.
The Friday, July 16, statement issued by Nellie’s notes that in addition to firing the security company at the time of the incident with Young, Nellie’s temporarily closed “to allow for a thorough review of the incident.”
The statement does not mention that Nellie’s reopening on Tuesday of this week, after being closed for over a month, was greeted by about 50 protesters, some of whom formed a human chain across the bar’s entrance door, blocking people from entering the bar. The action prompted the bar to close earlier in the evening than its normal closing time.
When Nellie’s reopened again on Friday, protesters returned to stage another demonstration on the sidewalk outside the bar and in the streets at the bustling intersection of 9th and U Streets, N.W., where Nellie’s is located.
D.C. police, who were monitoring the protest, immediately closed off vehicle access to the streets surrounding Nellie’s while about 40 or 50 protesters called for Nellie’s to agree to a series of demands that they have issued.
Among the demands is that Nellie’s participate in a “public community listening session” in which members of the community, including former Nellie’s customers, would present details about what protesters have said are alleged racially biased practices by Nellie’s staff against Black customers.
Corado told the Blade she agreed to Nellie’s invitation to serve as its community engagement director in her role as head of a private consulting firm focusing on diversity related issues that she started five years ago that’s separate from her job as Casa Ruby’s executive director. She said she will remain in her position as Casa Ruby executive director.
She said that among other things, she will make recommendations to Schantz on how best to address community concerns raised by the protesters and others in the community.
Nellie’s statement on Friday comes at a time when Nellie’s is under investigation by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General following a report two weeks ago by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) that it violated the terms of its liquor license under D.C. law in its handling of the fight that broke out at the time Young was pulled down the stairs by the security guard.
The ABRA report says the fight occurred after a Nellie’s staff member and one or more security guards ordered customers believed to have brought in their own bottle of liquor, which is not allowed by Nellie’s, to leave the bar. Young has said she was mistakenly identified as one of the customers who brought in their own liquor bottle.
Among those leading Friday’s protest outside Nellie’s were Makia Green, co-conductor of the community activist group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, and Bethelehem Yirga, co-founder of the racial justice advocacy group Palm Collective. Both said they respect Corado for her many years of advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community but were disappointed that she was working for Nellie’s.
“She should be in solidarity with the people in the streets because Ruby Corado used to be one of those people,” Green told the Blade. “And she should have been in solidarity with us.”
Minutes later, Green attempted to intervene when a verbal confrontation broke out between a man believed to be a Nellie’s customer and several of the protesters. The man, who is Black, shouted repeatedly, “You are boycotting the wrong fucking bar.” About a half dozen protesters shouted back, demanding that he leave the area.
“Nellie’s staff is racially, ethnically and gender-identity diverse,” the Nellie’s statement released on Friday says. “It always has and always will,” it says. “As we reopen to serve the community and ensure continued employment of our team of 50 employees – all of us at Nellie’s renew our mission to be an inclusive, welcoming and safe space for women, for all people of color, for the entire LGBTQ+ community and for all our neighbors and friends.”
The statement concludes, “We also recognize that being an inclusive business is an ongoing process, and we pledge to continue to investigate ways to do better. We promise to see you, to listen to you, to embrace you and to welcome you each night.”