Cassandra Helton has shopped for years at her Normandy Isles neighborhood market, so she was shocked a few months ago when a manager abruptly demanded that she leave. Hoping it was an aberration, she went back last week — this time with her cell phone video camera ready to roll.
Sure enough, a manager again asked her to leave the shop. The man wouldn't say why Helton's business was no longer welcome, but the transgender woman says he gave a strong hint: He kept calling her "sir."
"I was shocked and bewildered," Helton says. "I've never done anything wrong. I'm always polite to the cashiers there."
Helton kept her camera rolling and refused to back down, asking the manager at Sabor Tropical Supermarket to call Miami Beach Police. The cops responded, spoke with the manager, and eventually allowed Helton to finish her shopping. Miami's LGBTQ rights organization, SAVE, later intervened and got the store's owner to apologize and promise to retrain managers there.
In the end, Helton says, everything worked out fine. But she still wants to let the public see her video because she believes discrimination against Miami's transgender community remains rampant and rarely discussed.
"Everyone needs to know that this kind of behavior is out there. This is not the first time in my life I've ever been discriminated against," says Helton.
Helton grew up in Alabama and moved to Miami in 2006 after a business she was running in Atlanta went belly-up. She found work in South Florida working concessions at Haulover Beach and moved into a place on Normandy Isles.
Her first confrontation at Sabor came earlier this year, when a manager told her, "You can't shop here."
"I said, 'What do you mean? I've been shopping here for years.' He wouldn't give me a reason," she says.
Last week, Helton decided to return and to document what happened. "If I go on in and do a little shopping and no one bothers me, then no big deal," she says. But instead, almost immediately a manager insisted she leave.
"He gave me absolutely no reason. He's either discriminating against me because I'm transgender or just because he doesn't like me, and either way it's not acceptable," Helton says.
Helton praised the MBPD officers who responded and defused the situation. "The Miami Beach Police are great supporters of the LGBTQ community," she says. "They went to the manager and explained... you can't just tell people you can't come in and shop."
Helton later sent the video to SAVE, who contacted the store's owner. "The police did a fantastic job and it seems like it's not a larger issue at the store. They're absolutely taking the problem seriously," says Justin Klecha, SAVE's deputy director.
(A manager at Sabor declined to comment beyond saying, "We've spoken to the customer and everything is fine now.")
Helton agrees. She says she's not planning any further action against the store and is happy with the response. But she wants Miami residents to see her video and learn from her experience.
"The video accomplished what I wanted it to accomplish," Helton says. "I hope people can see that this kind of thing does happen in Miami."