Police Investigate Potential Hate Crime After Confrontation at Las Perlas

Activists are holding protests and calling for a boycott of the bar Las Perlas on Sixth Street after transgender women and gay men were forcibly removed by the bar’s security on Friday, Aug. 23.

A group of transgender women and gay men who were forcibly removed from the Las Perlas bar on Friday, Aug. 23, say they were harassed and assaulted by a homophobic couple. Video of their removal by bar security, posted onto social media, went viral. The alleged assault is now being investigated by police as a potential hate crime.

Cell phone video recorded by Khloe Perez-Rios, a program manager with the nonprofit Bienestar Human Services, doesn’t show the confrontation, nor does it depict what led to the removal of the individuals by security from the bar at 107 E. Sixth St. The incident occurred on the first night of the three-day DTLA Proud Festival, a local LGBTQ rights and pride event.

The incident started over a chair, according to Jorge Diaz of Bienestar, one of the people removed on Friday. He said that he and others from Bienestar were at Las Perlas when one person left to use the restroom. When she returned, a woman had taken the seat. When the Bienestar woman asked for the seat back, the woman called her a man and said “you shouldn’t even be here,” according to Diaz. The woman’s male partner allegedly slapped the trans woman and pushed Perez-Rios.

Security intervened and removed the couple, whose identities are unknown.

It remains unclear why the Bienestar group was removed. Perez-Rios’ cell phone footage shows one woman, Jennifer Bianchi, trying to break free and pushing back against Las Perlas security before being pushed out.

“They ended up leaving us on the street with the aggressors. They picked up heavy metal and threw it at the door of the bar. We’re trying to huddle by security, but they’re not doing anything,” Perez-Rios told Los Angeles Downtown News. “The people were yelling, ‘We’re going to come back and shoot you, come back and kill you,’ so we called the police. They showed up minutes later and the couple ran away.”

The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that a criminal threats report was taken at the scene and that it is investigating what happened as a hate crime.

Pouring With Heart, the owner of Las Perlas, released two statements on the bar’s Instagram page. In the first, since deleted later on Monday, Aug. 26, the company said it would donate profits from Aug. 23-25 to Bienestar.

“Last evening, an escalated verbal altercation broke out among two groups of guests at Las Perlas,” Pouring With Heart CEO Cedd Moses said in the first statement on Aug. 24. “Our manager on duty asked both groups to leave as the safety and security of our patrons and employees is our top priority and we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior in our establishments. The guards removed the guests that were not compliant with the manager’s request to leave and did so in accordance with company policy.”

The following day Moses released another statement saying Las Perlas is hiring a new security company, and that outside counsel is reviewing tapes from Friday night.

“Our first and primary concern, and has been from day one, is to operate a safe place for all people. Period, no exceptions,” Moses said in the statement. “We are taking immediate steps to fully investigate what happened on Friday and to address each concern that we’ve received since then.”

Activists protested outside the bar on Saturday. Las Perlas was closed on Sunday, despite usually being open that day.

Perez-Rios expressed appreciation for the second Pouring With Heart statement, but said the bar goers were awaiting an apology.

“That’s what we’re having issues with; they failed to protect us, they treated us with no sense of life or humanity,” Diaz said. “That’s what we’re all trying to process. It’s a powerless feeling that you’re stuck with.”

Diaz, who was fighting back tears, called for Pouring With Heart and Las Perlas to offer a public apology.

nicholas@downtownnews.com