ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Borrego walked into Bishop Tavern and Lounge with friends Thursday night looking for an evening of fun.
At the door, a bouncer invited Borrego and one of her friends — a drag queen — to partake in free drinks as part of the Tavern's weekly "ladies night." But later, as the pair sipped vodka and cranberry juice from their pink cups, another bouncer approached.
"You guys don't get to participate," they were told. "Because you're dudes."
Borrego, whose driver's license lists her gender as female, showed her ID, but the bouncer was unrelenting.
A heated dispute ensued. Words were exchanged. And the group left the bar.
Afterward, a few in Borrego's group, which included three female-to-male transgender people, launched a Facebook campaign to boycott Bishop Tavern and Lounge, 260 First Ave. N.
The group understood the bar's denial of her friend's participation in "ladies night," Borrego said. But as a legal woman, her treatment was nothing short of discrimination, she said.
Borrego was born male, but went through two years' worth of hormone adjustment and gender-change measures to become female.
"Legally, I'm a woman," Borrego said. "And to deny me to participate in ladies night — that's very disrespectful."
By midday Friday, the Facebook group had attracted more than 250 fans, who issued messages of support for the boycott.
The controversy quickly caught the attention of Dean Marshlack, owner of Bishop Tavern and Lounge, who got in touch with Borrego and her friends Friday and apologized profusely.
"Our staff, in my opinion, didn't do anything with the intent to harm somebody," Marshlack said. "I don't think the bouncer's statement came from a place that was meant to be harmful. I think it came from a place of being misinformed."
Marshlack said he plans to speak with his staff about the incident and ensure that from now on, transgender people will be treated with respect. The Tavern also wants to work with the community to raise awareness of transgender issues.
Late Friday, a public apology was also posted on the Facebook and Twitter pages for Bishop Tavern and Lounge.
"Bishop strives on being one of St. Petersburg's premier nightlife destinations for everyone, without prejudice," the apology read. "We really appreciate the fact that we live in such a diverse community. This event has given us the opportunity to better educate our staff to ensure everyone has a pleasant experience regardless of who you are."
After the apology, Borrego's friends discontinued their call for a boycott. Their boycott page will come down in the next few days, they said. But their larger cause will continue.
"I definitely want to keep the issue alive," Borrego said. "I still think there is an issue at hand. It is discrimination at the core."
Despite the apology, Borrego said she has no plans to be a return customer at Bishop Tavern and Lounge.
"It's just principle," she said.