Michigan charges Traverse City hair salon with discrimination
Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights has charged a Traverse City hair salon with discrimination.
The Studio 8 Hair Lab drew national attention last summer when the owner, Christine Geiger, posted messages on Facebook saying that trans and queer people were not welcome, telling them to instead see a “pet groomer.”
LGBTQ+ groups, elected officials and others in the community condemned the posts, with many calling the message dehumanizing. Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights said 21 people have filed complaints since last July.
“This is not a complicated case,” said the department’s executive director, John Johnson, Jr., during a press conference Wednesday. “The law makes it exceptionally clear that it is a violation of civil rights law.”
The state is including three of the complaints in its charges. Johnson said that as a business owner, Geiger failed to fulfill her legal responsibilities to the public.
“If your sexual orientation, gender identity or expression was not on her list of what was acceptable, you could seek out the services — in her words — of a dog groomer,” he said.
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Geiger is suing Traverse City and three of the people who filed complaints under its nondiscrimination ordinance. The suit is currently in the 13th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Reached on Wednesday, Geiger declined to comment on the state charges. Her attorney, David Delaney, told IPR Geiger did not actually deny anyone service, even though her post said her business had “the right to refuse services.”
“We have a pure speech case about a Facebook post,” he said. “And you don't have denial of service, irrespective of what the words said.”
Delaney pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June that struck down a Colorado nondiscrimination law in favor of a web designer who refused to create websites for same-sex couples. He said the salon’s case also relates to free speech and religion.
But Alannah Buford-Kamerman, an attorney with the Department of Civil Rights, said the statements amount to discrimination.
“This isn't a First Amendment case,” she said. “This is about – did Studio 8 publish an advertisement indicating it would participate in unlawful discrimination.”
No hearing has been scheduled yet.
In 2022, the state Supreme Court upheld an interpretation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act that includes sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Last March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bipartisan law expanding the to explicitly include LGBTQ+ rights. That change takes effect in February of 2024.