Transgender activists say IHOP refused to serve them
© Getty Images

A transgender activist says he and a group of his friends were refused service at a Nashville IHOP as employees laughed and whispered about them.

Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Tennessean on Monday that he was in town for a gathering with Transgender Law Center and Southerners on New Ground.

The story was first reported by the Dallas Morning News.

A group of seven people went to an IHOP at about 11 a.m. Monday and was promptly refused service.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We came in and immediately, the server looked at one of my colleagues who has a service dog and said, flat out, 'I won't be serving you,' " Schelling told the newspaper. "We sort of took it like she didn’t want to serve us, but somebody else would come and take care of us."

The group says they then waited at a table inside the restaurant for 25 minutes as other customers were served, Schelling said.

Schelling later clarified to The Dallas Morning News that the dog was an "emotional support animal."

"As we sat there, it became apparent it was more than the service dog," he said about the refusal of service.

Schelling, who is a transgender man, described the group as people of color, “trans and gender-nonconforming folks."

One of his friends asked a woman behind the cash register whether they were going to have a waiter come to take their order.

Schelling says the employee then turned to a co-worker and began to laugh and jeer at the group.

"Other patrons were starting to notice and starting to stare at us, along with the employees who seemed to be getting some sort of amusement out of not coming to serve us," Schelling said.

The group left after about 30 to 45 minutes of waiting at the restaurant with no service. They called IHOP’s customer service and blasted the restaurant on Facebook.

Stephanie Peterson, a spokesperson for IHOP, said in a statement to the newspaper that they will reach out to Schelling and the other guests "to apologize for the disappointing service they received.”

Peterson said the franchise owner wants to use the incident as a “coaching opportunity” with the restaurant’s staff.

"Both the brand and our operators are committed to inclusion and making all guests feel welcome," the statement continued. "Discrimination of any kind is not reflective of our brand or our beliefs."

Schelling said he was “encouraged” by IHOP’s response.

Updated Thursday at 4:09 p.m. to clarify that the dog was an emotional support animal.