A Puerto Rican transgender man has won a $25,000 settlement after a years-long legal battle against a Queens trade school and an employee who allegedly denied him bathroom access and outed him as trans in front of students.
Danny Hart, 49, backed by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, filed a lawsuit against Apex Technical School in Long Island City, Queens, in December 2016, claiming a staffer repeatedly and publicly called him by his former name, or dead name, and told him to accept a key to the school’s locked women’s restrooms. According to the suit, the school did not allow him to enroll under his name; instead, they forced him to use his former legal name, which was revealed multiple times by a staffer, leading to a wave of harassment.
The events unfolded in 2016 when Hart was seeking a career change from the military. In a phone interview with Gay City News, Hart said he always wanted to work with his hands and saw becoming an electrician as a lucrative way to pursue this dream while feeling affirmed in his gender.
Within moments of entering the school, the discrimination began. Staffers allegedly deadnamed him on paperwork by using the excuse that his legal name was required. The then-45-year-old shrugged off this initial incident and hoped his teachers would be more understanding.
“I told the professor in a very low voice — I pointed to the thing, and I told him, I go by this name,” Hart said. “He was cool with it.”
But another staffer came and grabbed the roster and repeatedly yelled Hart’s birth name. The staffer then allegedly said, “You should have like one female.” The students, who were all men, protested that there were no women in the class.
“I felt like all my blood left my body,” Hart said. “Like all the lights were pointed at me… I couldn’t move.”
The next day the staffer pulled Hart outside of the classroom door and said, “‘I called you yesterday,’” Hart recalled. The employee then pulled out keys for a locked women’s bathroom and demanded that Hart take them.
“I will not go to that bathroom,” declared Hart, who stated that he was willing to instead use a bathroom at a pizza shop more than a block away. The staffer allegedly directed Hart to go use the women’s bathroom.
“You cannot tell me what I can and cannot do with my body,” Hart replied.
When Hart returned to the classroom, his classmates began taunting him and making transphobic bathroom jokes, he said. That was his second day in class — and he never returned.
“I never was able to get that certificate,” said Hart, who recalled feeling embarrassed. “I was really mad. I wanted that certificate; I truly did.”
Apex Technical School did not respond to Gay City News’ requests for comment.
Following the alleged harassment, Hart returned to the Army and went on to manage a bar, but he never got his dream job installing air conditioners. Shortly after the incident, Hart said he felt more deeply in the closet. Because of mounting transphobia, he temporarily halted his social transition, including changing his name.
“I just didn’t want to go through that again,” Hart said. “I just went back to my regular name and just let people call me by that, although I didn’t relate to it.”
That year, a friend encouraged Hart to pursue a lawsuit. More than four years later, after finding probable cause, the school is paying the former student $15,000 in emotional distress and $10,000 in civil penalties. The school has agreed to update internal policies on bathroom signage, and staffers must complete anti-discrimination training that is inclusive of transgender, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming students, according to a copy of the lawsuit reviewed by Gay City News.
Since then, Hart has moved outside of New York to Florida and is enjoying a “stealth” life as just one of the guys.