Group accuses Capone’s of bias

Transgender guest says he was barred

By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / February 21, 2010

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The leader of a North Shore transgender support group will appear before the Peabody Licensing Board tomorrow to file a complaint that alleges a local restaurant and bar turned away several men because they were dressed as women.

“I’m hoping they’ll take action in some way or form to show that an establishment can’t treat patrons like this,’’ said Robert Knowles, 42, who lives in Saugus and is the director of the transgender social group Sisters Family. “This was discrimination.’’

Knowles, also known as Ashley Amber Bottoms, detailed the alleged snub in a letter to the city’s licensing board earlier this month. He contends that eight members of the group - including a woman - were barred entry by workers at Capone’s on Jan. 29.

“The door staff told me we would not be allowed entrance because of how we were dressed and that men in skirts would not be allowed inside,’’ he wrote in the complaint.

Judi Pachoni, owner of Capone’s, could not be reached for comment. Another manager at the bar declined to comment on the alleged incident.

State regulations forbid bars or restaurants from restricting entry to people based on race, color, religious creed, gender, or sexual orientation.

Under state law, complaints about discrimination at bars can be heard by either a local licensing board or the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. According to Minas Dakos, Peabody Licensing Board chairman, the local board’s policy calls for listening to a complaint and then deciding if a hearing is necessary. Any decision can be appealed to the state commission.

Ralph Sacramone, executive director of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, declined comment.

Dakos also declined to discuss the complaint but said Capone’s had been cited by the local licensing board for serving minors in 2009 and in 1995.

Knowles, an unemployed crane operator who dresses like a woman in public, said he had visited Capone’s on three prior occasions with the transgender social group he directs. The group has five chapters in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. The North Shore chapter has up to 30 members who meet weekly at local bars.

Knowles said he does not want the city to suspend the bar’s license. “I just want to be accepted where I go,’’ he said. “I think that’s all that everybody wants. We don’t cause problems or trouble; we’re very responsible people. We pay taxes. We don’t like to be seen as the punchline of a joke.

“The whole object [of the group] is to help others feel confident so they can embrace who they are and they can go out. That’s how I see the community being accepted in the future - by showing that we are confident and secure in who we are.

“Many now are afraid to be seen, and I think it’s wrong. They shouldn’t have to be afraid.’’

Steven Rosenberg can be reached at