Has Zara a problem with LGBTQI people? Fashion chain in hot waters

Zara, the cheap and trendy fashion chain, is in danger of alienating the LGBTQI community in The Netherlands. This week reports in the press and social media brought insensitive treatment of members of the LGBTQI community to light. A number of activist and local politicians in Amsterdam spoke out in the media and went on an activist shopping trip together.

Zara getting itself into trouble

What sparked the media furore, was a serious incident last week in the Amsterdam branch of Zara. A group of Syrian LGBTQI people were out on an evening of shopping. Celebrating their freedom to be who they want to be, they shopped around for the most fun and beautiful clothes while chatting with each other. In their conversation they used affectionate words for each other in their conversation. A bit like ‘darling’ or ‘love’ in English.

This was overheard by a another customer, who happened to understand the meaning of these words. That was enough to enrage this customer who started to swear at them and threaten them. He spat at them and said that as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood he would kill them. The incident escalated when the man discovered that some people in the group were trans women. He tried to attack the lady and tore part of here dress of her.

What made matters worse for these LGBTQI friends, was that the security staff of the store stood by and looked laughing at what happened. Even worse the group of LGBTQI friends were escorted out of the store and got notice they were not welcome in the store for another year!

Zara’s attitude: incident or trend?

Luckily the police arrested the attacker and has the case under investigation. The shock for these Syrian refugees was all the more great, because this kind of treatment was exactly why they fled their home country. But was this an incident at Zara or is it a serious issue for this fashion chain?

The social media picked this story up quickly and more incidents at Zara came up, not only in the Amsterdam branch but also elsewhere in the country. And what looked like an incident seems to be a trend at Zara. They seem to train their staff to keep men and women separate: on the shop floor and in the changing rooms.

In Breda a customer likes to gender blend and shop for clothes at both men’s and women’s’ department. While shopping he is followed by two giggling shop assistants. At the check out a senior shop assistant says loudly to him: “Ah, so you are the gentleman shopping around on the lady’s department?”. “Ah, yes” the man says. “Well, if you so choose to want to buy ladies clothing, please take them to the men’s changing rooms.”

That seems to be a clumsy shop assistant. But later a trans activist, Mounir Samuel, published her experiences in a column on the site gay.nl. Summing it up in one sentence he’s treated in this way: “Not allowed into the women’s changing room, not welcome in the men’s”.  A couple of years ago two drag queens were sent away at Zara and the gender bending Dutch rock star Jett Rebel had a similar experience in a Zara store in Amersfoort.

Time for action

Local LGBTQI activists and politicians in Amsterdam were outraged and wanted to take some action. Nothing extraordinary, but according to the time honored rule ‘girls (male/female/both) wanna have fun’. So they went shopping at Zara at the departments that the store apparently think is not right. So men shopped for dresses and women for some fun men’s clothes….for themselves. And of course tried them on.

This time the Zara staff was instructed not to antagonize their new customers and stay polite and helpful. As their staff normally should be. Lets’ hope that this time it is not an incident at Zara, but that it is a change for the better.  At least the activist told local media that they would be back, to see if change really has happened. And if this time they could find something they liked to buy.