A man who identifies as non-binary is blasting popular clothing store Zara as “transphobic” after a sales assistant tried to prevent him from using a female changing room at a location in Oxford, UK.
Giorgio Gioele Sirito, 21, visited the store with a female friend and her mother while on vacation from the United States.
Though has a full beard and was wearing masculine clothing, Sirito attempted to use the female changing rooms at the location to try on two dresses. He was immediately stopped by a female employee, who told him he was not allowed to enter the female changing area.
Sirito’s claims of having been “discriminated” against was covered by local media, which used “she/her” pronouns to refer to him.
“I was wearing men’s clothing but I had two gowns on my shoulder, it was obvious what I wanted to try on,” Sirito told Oxford Mail after the incident.
“At first I was shocked and I went away. Then I thought for one second, it’s my right. I do not identify myself as a man, I have a right to be there. I went back and explained clearly, I am non-binary, I am not a man,” he insisted.
“She kept saying it’s against the rules. But I said, ‘I do not think you know my gender identity better than me.'”
Despite the employee telling him to not use the female changing rooms, Sirito stormed past her and used the facilities anyway. After the incident, he complained to the store manager, who reportedly apologized to him.
“Afterwards, the manager was nice and said they were sorry. But then I went home and looked on the internet and I saw many examples of complaints of transphobic behavior at Zara shops,” Sirito told Oxford Mail.
Sirito claimed that the experience left him feeling “dehumanized,” and branded the store “transphobic” for the female employee’s actions.
Speaking to the Oxford Mail, the mother of Sirito’s friend, who had been accompanying them, said she physically stood guard outside of Sirito’s changing room in order to prevent the Zara employee from intervening.
“There were a couple of people standing behind us waiting to take a number for their clothes who witnessed it all which was even more embarrassing for Giorgio,” the woman said. “I walked in and stood outside Giorgio’s curtain to make sure he was OK and so that the dressing assistant wouldn’t bother him.”
She said that when Sirito left the changing room, the sales assistant rolled her eyes at him.
“Giorgio then told her that she should not raise her voice at people or be so rude. He asked to speak with the manager and the assistant smiled, according to Giorgio, as if she knew nothing would happen.”
Sirito is an Italian student from Savona in Northern Italy who is studying in the United States at Colorado College. He studies Race, Ethnicity and Migration studies and works as a Program Assistant at the college.
“I strongly believe that using your own privilege to promote inclusion and understanding is a moral duty that we should all strive for,” Sirito says in his staff bio.
Sirito had previously lashed out at Colorado College after the COVID-19 vaccine requirements for incoming students were dropped.
This is not the first time Zara has been targeted by transgender customers angry over their single-sex changing room policies.
In 2020, Zara reached a $30,000 settlement with a female customer who identified as non-binary and was prevented from using the male changing room at a store in New York.
The incident, which took place in 2016, played out strikingly similar to the most recent occurrence in Oxford. An employee confronted the woman as she moved to enter the male changing area, telling her she was “not a guy.”
The customer filed a complaint with New York City Commission on Human Rights, and an investigation was opened.
In 2020, the parties finally came to a resolution, and Zara agreed to pay the customer $30,000 in emotional distress damages with a promise to prevent future incidents by allowing people to “self-identify” into the changing area they preferred.
But the policy has not been without its consequences.
Female customers have spoken out about their experience sharing changing rooms with men. In 2021, one woman spoke to media about her experience being caught changing by two “6 foot tall” men who were allowed into the female area at a Zara in London.
When questioned on the incident, management at the store said: “We have to be very careful, it’s a very sensitive time and it’s very easy to offend people … We just have to try not to upset anyone and play it on a case-by-case basis.”
The manager continued that the guidance they had developed was to allow people to use the changing rooms associated with the gender of the clothes they were trying on.