Terry Costa owner Tina Loyd would like it on the record that she fully supports cross dressers. Her North Dallas dress shop happily supplies the gowns for any number of men competing in local drag shows and employs a pageant consultant who often attends the events in support of customers.
That said, she's still not letting men use the store's dressing rooms.
Loyd implemented the ban several years ago after noticing a sharp spike in theft as her male client base increased. "Our most expensive gowns were disappearing almost as soon as they arrived," she recently wrote in a letter to a customer explaining the policy.
We found sensors on the floor, tickets hidden under chairs, inexpensive gowns that were not our own hung in our garment bags--mocking our anti-theft efforts. As our efforts increased this client base became physically aggressive and verbally abusive, essentially (and oftentimes literally) pushing over my consultants and causing scene after scene in the store. After one particularly abusive gentleman left the store we noticed one of his selections was missing. My Pageant Consultant (who attended many of the local cross-dressing Pageants in support of friends and clients) decided to attend such a pageant the following weekend. There he was, competing in the very dress he stole from us, a dress that had not been widely distributed or available for order. He didn't even bother to take the pins out we used to fit the dress since it was too big.
We repeatedly asked the Dallas Police Department for help to no avail. I researched security cameras, etc. but there was no affordable option. Our landlord finally stepped in when they realized the extent of the problem: We had lost over $50,000 worth of gowns.
So when Steven Havard, who performs as Stacey McBride O'Neil, made the trip from northeastern Oklahoma on May 11 to outfit himself for the Miss Gay Oklahoma America Pageant, his request to try on a $1,300 dress was denied.
He took it very personally.
"I was made to feel like a second-rate person when I went into Terry Costa," O'Neil told the Dallas Voice, which first reported the story. "I made a nearly five-hour drive to try to find a gown for the Miss Gay Oklahoma America Pageant and was treated like dirt."
He posted an angry account of his experience on Terry Costa's Facebook page so that "no one else will have to endure the heartache, humiliation and hate I had to experience." The comment was promptly taken down by the company, and Loyd wrote the letter we quoted from.
We have a call into Terry Costa for comment. Nothing yet. But it seems that Loyd's letter didn't do much to soothe O'Neil's feelings. He told the Voice that it was worse than the original encounter because it implied he was a thief.
(Update at 4:36 p.m.: Loyd called to it was "never our intention" to offend O'Neil. The store simply informed him politely that they don't allow men to try on dresses. The theft was part of the reason for the ban. The other part is the fact that female customers were uncomfortable changing in the same area as men. And the changing areas simply weren't built to accommodate both sexes. "We are a women's clothing store and we only have a women's dressing room."
The majority of Terry Costa clients, Loyd says, are 14-18 year old girls shopping for formal dresses. Back when the store did allow men to try on gowns, their parents complained.
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Loyd said she has friends and employees who are gay and that the store's refusal to let men try on dresses is "not a discrimination thing." Rather, she described it as a logical decision by a privately owned business that caters exclusively to women.)
The Voice also reports that O'Neil filed a complaint with the Dallas Fair Housing Office, which is tasked with enforcing the city's anti-discrimination ordinance in regards to employment and public accommodations as well as housing. A worker in the office confirmed the receipt of the complaint and are trying to confirm that it came from O'Neil and not the Voice.
The ordinance, passed in 2002, says businesses cannot "directly or indirectly exclude, segregate, limit, refuse, or deny the accommodations, advantages, facilities, benefits, privileges, services, or goods offered to the general public at that place." Violations of the ordinance carry a maximum $500 fine.
We'll see what the city decides. Meanwhile, when he's not lobbying against Terry Costa, O'Neil is preparing for the Miss Gay Oklahoma America Pageant in June. He's already found another dress.