Ore. Bar Owner Accused of Antitrans Discrimination Running for Office

Former business owner Chris Penner is looking to unseat the commissioner of the state's labor bureau, which found Penner guilty of antitrans discrimination in 2012 and ordered him to pay $400,000, although Penner has thus far refused to pay the fine.

BY Parker Marie Molloy

May 08 2014 11:04 AM ET

Christopher Penner

The owner of a now-shuttered bar in Portland, Ore., has launched a write-in campaign seeking to replace the man in charge of the agency that last year found the businessman guilty of antitrans discrimination. 

Chris Penner, who owned the since-closed bar formerly known as The P Club, and then as The Twilight Annex, is hoping to unseat the current Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, who last year ordered Penner to pay $400,000 to a group of gender-nonconforming individuals after Penner told them they were not welcome at his establishment.

This week, Penner announced that he is running to replace the current commissioner, Brad Avakian. Though Penner missed the March 11 deadline to officially declare candidacy, he has recently taken to urging voters to write in his name, reports Oregon Live.

"What I would bring to the job is fairness and impartiatility," Penner told Oregon Live. "I got a lot of feedback from customers, other business owners, and family that what was happening was wrong. The comment I heard the most was that the bureaucrats in Oregon make this state very hard on small business."

In 2012, Penner left a voice mail for one of the members of the Rose City T-Girls, a group of transgender women, gender-nonconforming people, and crossdressing men, informing them that they were no longer welcome at his establishment.

"Hello, my name is Chris. I'm the owner of the P Club Bar and Grill," Penner said in the voicemail message. "Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I'm going to have to ask you, Cass and your group, to not come back on Friday nights. People think that (A) we're a tranny bar or (B) that we're a gay bar. We are neither. People are not coming in because they just don't want to be here on Friday night now."

In August of 2013, Commissioner Avakian handed Penner a $400,000 fine, after finding "substantial evidence of discrimination." After Penner failed to pay the group as ordered, the state's Department of Justice seized Penner's property and bank accounts.

Penner is still in the process of appealing the $400,000 ruling. He claims that he is neither homophobic nor transphobic, and that his voicemail was simply an attempt to solve the problem of his business' declining Friday night sales.

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