Categories
Audio Sources - Full Text Articles

Trans Brooklynite endures frustrating quest for accountability in Coney Island

A non-binary transgender southern Brooklyn resident who said they were assaulted in the bathroom of a Coney Island restaurant and bar in October of last year has spent months trying to address the issue, but they have been frustrated by the restaurant’s response and the bureaucratic legal system — which has ultimately discouraged them from pressing the case further.

The months-long ordeal first unfolded on an otherwise quiet autumn day in southern Brooklyn — long after the summertime crowds dissipated — when Christian Molieri and a group of friends stopped by Ruby’s Bar and Grill along the Riegelmann Boardwalk as part of a casual birthday celebration on October 30. 

The feel-good day took a dark turn when Molieri stepped away to use the bathroom at Ruby’s. As Molieri waited for their turn, they said the person who occupied the stall grew suspicious for no apparent reason and started interrogating Molieri about why they were standing there.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a problem, just gotta use the stall,’” recalled Molieri, who spoke to Gay City News in a one-on-one interview. 

“I’m a social worker and a certified de-escalation trainer,” Molieri explained. “I’m not going to engage with someone in a way that makes them any more tense than they already are.”

The situation escalated nonetheless when the individual, whose name is not known, blocked Molieri from leaving and physically pushed them against the wall, barricading them into the bathroom, they said. Molieri vowed to leave, but said the person blocked them — and slammed the door against Molieri.

“He said, ‘No, you’re gonna fucking go to the bathroom,’” Molieri recalled. “I dialed a friend of mine who has an iPhone with a watch. I dialed it and I said, ‘You have seconds before I start screaming.’ I said, “Get back here. I was assaulted. This guy is not getting out of the bathroom.’”

After Molieri screamed out for help from friends and managed to escape from the bathroom, they brought the incident to the attention of bar owner Michael Sarrel — but that went nowhere.

“The owner came over,” Molieri said. “He said, ‘What’s going on?’ I said, ‘I was assaulted and held captive in your bathroom by that guy.’” 

Sarrel “laughed and walked away,” Molieri said. 

The incident left Molieri shaken, but they went back to sit with friends at an outdoor table. Shortly thereafter, they said the alleged assailant showed up yet again, hovered over their table, and began speaking. Molieri, still rattled by what just transpired in the bathroom, yelled out, at which point the restaurant asked them to leave — even though the alleged assailant was allowed to remain in the establishment, Molieri said.

Sunset on the Riegelmann Boardwalk in September of last year.Sunset on the Riegelmann Boardwalk in September of last year.Matt Tracy

Further efforts to resolve the situation with Ruby’s were unsuccessful. Molieri, accompanied by several supporters, returned to Ruby’s at a later date and tried to raise the issue with ownership, but according to video footage Molieri shared with Gay City News, management ignored them. In one scene caught on video, Molieri told the owner that they were “the victim that you laughed at,” but the owner turned his back and continued working behind the bar.

At the same time, a member of management who Molieri identified as “Matt,” the owner’s son, appears in the video and tells Molieri that there is a “copious amount of evidence proving that all the statements you made were false” and that their attorney advised them against discussing it. 

Niki Brisco, a trans woman who lives in the neighborhood and was with Molieri when they returned to Ruby’s, said the first person she talked to upon arriving was the owner.

“I immediately knew it wasn’t going to go good when he walked up to me and said, ‘I’ll be right with you, sir, ma’am, lady, whatever you are,’” Brisco said.

Ruby’s did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

To Brisco, the situation was representative of the injustices trans individuals face as they navigate their everyday lives — from dining at a restaurant to passing through airport security.

“If a trans person is attacked and we raise umbrage about it, we are often made to feel like, ‘You’re already weird and now you’re causing trouble,’” Brisco said.

Molieri and Brisco said they left after management refused to have a discussion with them.  

“It was like talking to a wall,” Brisco said. “No olive branch, no handshake, nothing like that.”

Molieri, already skeptical of any chance of remedying the situation with the police, at least tried to bring the case to the NYPD, but wound up getting bogged down by an unproductive months-long back-and-forth that left them wondering if anything would come of it. And when they noticed inconsistencies on the police report — including what they said was a misclassification of the alleged offense — Molieri asked for the information to be modified, only to be told that they would have to clear more hurdles by filling out additional forms and traveling to NYPD headquarters in Manhattan. 

Molieri and the NYPD both shared details on file from the complaint report, which described the incident as “an altercation” — and it was classified as harassment rather than assault.

In the end, the police did not take any action in the case.

“I found myself, over the last several months, sort of thinking — I didn’t do this, I didn’t start this, and I didn’t even look at the person in the bathroom,” Molieri said. “I certainly didn’t expect I would be held captive and beaten, or further dehumanized by the owner who laughed at me.”

Still, though, Molieri said they have been able to lean on loyal friends and supporters who have stood by their side — and they’re getting involved in local groups such as RUSA LGBTQ, a network of LGBTQ Russian-speaking individuals and other people from former parts of the Soviet Union, as well as locals and allies who do not speak Russian. That group is based in southern Brooklyn and will host the seventh annual edition of Brighton Beach Pride on May 11.

That, for now, is what Molieri looks forward to — and the only thing they can control.

“I’m a social worker,” Molieri said. “We can’t manage other people’s emotions. We can only manage ourselves.”