Studio 8 Hair Lab in Traverse City, July 12, 2023 | Lily Guiney
Nearly a month after a hair salon owner’s anti-trans Facebook posts sent shockwaves through the Traverse City community, officials and locals alike are still wrestling with what it means to be accepting in northern Michigan.
Christine Geiger, the owner of Studio 8 Hair Lab, found herself in the national spotlight after posting on Facebook that she would not provide salon services to transgender or nonbinary people. “If a human identifies as anything other than a man/woman please seek services at a local pet groomer,” Geiger wrote in the post. “You are not welcome at this salon. Period.”
The post — which came days after the right-wing-majority U.S. Supreme Court on June 30 ruled in 303 Creative, LLC v. Elenis that a Colorado wedding website designer had the right to deny service to gay couples — garnered national media attention.
Geiger’s words, meanwhile, spurred a mix of outrage and sympathy from the community.
State Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) said most people she’s spoken to about the issue were “horrified” to see Geiger’s posts.
“People who live in this community do not want it to be perceived, or in reality, to be unsafe for LGBTQ+ neighbors,” Coffia said. “People from out of town bring it up, and it’s made national news, and no one that I’ve talked to wants to be associated with bigotry towards LGBTQ+ members of our community.”
When the Michigan Advance again attempted to contact Geiger for comment, her salon’s voicemail box was full. Studio 8 Hair Lab has also privatized its social media accounts.
Two weeks after Geiger’s posts, the State Theater, a volunteer-run movie theater owned by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, hosted a “United Against Hate” event with proceeds donated to The Trevor Project, an organization that advocates for the safety of LGBTQ+ youth. The event featured a drag show, as well as demonstrations from hair and makeup artists in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Events like that aren’t uncommon in Traverse City, an increasingly liberal community with an active pride organization. Even so, queer residents are still faced with the challenges that come with life in a largely rural region.
Coffia told the Michigan Advance that just prior to Geiger’s posts, a young trans woman attending one of her coffee hour events in a neighboring town expressed concern about the way her rural community perceives and treats transgender and nonbinary people.
“She was visibly nervous,” Coffia said. “But to her credit, she stood up and spoke very courageously about how frightening it was for her to be targeted for her identity and wanting to know how I as a representative for the region was going to advocate so that we were a safe community for everyone.”
Coffia credited the Legislature’s passage of expansions to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) with helping to make Michigan a safer place for LGBTQ+ residents, but acknowledged that Traverse City still has a ways to go on becoming a wholly affirming area.
“My vision for what it would look like to have an accepting community is that we get to the point where people like the woman who owned that salon would never again feel comfortable saying something so hateful and dangerous,” Coffia said. “There’s such an uptick in identity-based violence towards the LGBTQ+ community, and we need to recognize that our words can be weaponized and can incite violence.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that she feels that comments like Geiger’s only stand to hurt the businesses they refer to, whereas operating with acceptance will bring better revenue.
“Bigotry is bad for business,” Whitmer said after an event in Suttons Bay late last month. “This is why I signed [the expansions to] the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act into law.”
Whitmer acknowledged that Geiger was entitled to her own opinion in making the posts, but said she doubts it will yield positive results for her.
“Michigan’s a welcoming state,” Whitmer said. “We’re on the right side of history. But we’re also a state of people who have their own opinions, and that’s fine, but I feel like it is good for business to be progressive and to treat all people with respect and kindness.”
Traverse City’s city attorney, Lauren Trible-Laucht, said in a July statement that the city had received multiple complaints about Geiger’s posts, which may violate a non-discrimination ordinance applicable to local businesses.
“We understand the seriousness of these complaints and in light of the recent Supreme Court rulings, as well as recent legislative changes at the state level, the complaint requires diligent review of the law and how that may apply to the business in question,” Trible-Laucht said.
Investigations of complaints are ongoing at both the city and state level within the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has said it’s monitoring the case, which could pit theU.S. Supreme Court 303 Creative ruling in against ELCRA’s protection of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination by businesses.
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