Whataburger's twitter bio says "There's pride in every Whataburger," and it's punctuated with the hashtag #ProudToServeYou. But several people have suggested that the Texas-based chain might need to edit that, after a drag performer said that she was banned from entering a Whataburger restaurant in Austin over the weekend.
Erika Klash was in Austin for the International Drag Festival, and after she finished her performance in character as Monokuma from the Danganronpa video game series, she decided to meet a friend at the Whataburger on Guadalupe Street. Klash told KVUE that she doesn't always stay in costume after a show, but she wanted to take some photos later, so she didn't change.
When Klash—who was wearing black and white face paint, a large black and white wig, and a pair of over-the-knee red boots—and her friend got to the Whataburger, a security guard materialized in front of them and stopped them from going into the restaurant. She was not given a reason, and she was not carrying any of the props that accompanied her Monokuma ensemble at the time.
"The security guard blocked me from entering. I kind of took a step back because I didn’t want to seem like a threat," she said. "And I knew that there was—there was a lot of folks in the establishment and I sort of felt intimidated, outnumbered. So I took a step back and the security guard said something about me not being able to go inside to my friend."
Klash said that she was the only drag performer at the restaurant, so she decided to "just back off and retreat and to go someplace else." She and her friend got in their car, drove to a different Whataburger and eventually scored their meal—but they opted for the drive-thru this time.
"I was just refused service at a @Whataburger in Austin, Texas because I was in drag," she tweeted after the incident." Manager didn’t want me to enter and security blocked me from entering without citing any company policy. I am a professional artist, NOT A security threat."
Whataburger quickly responded to Klash's tweet to say it was sorry. "We apologize you had a bad experience at Whataburger. We love all of our customers & we are investigating the circumstances surrounding this unfortunate incident," it wrote. "We would really appreciate an opportunity to speak to you directly so we can address this."
VICE has reached out to both Klash and Whataburger for comment. In a follow-up post on Monday, she said that she had spoken directly to the company. "They apologized, recorded my statement on the incident, and are currently investigating [...] I REALLY want to believe that this was all a misunderstanding, but at this moment I cannot be certain," she wrote. "Hopefully this investigation will shed some light.
"When one is in full drag, and there are strangers staring at you while you're being physically blocked from entering an establishment, AND the person blocking your entry does not give a clear reason for doing so, it's hard for one not to wonder WHY all of that is happening. As a queer person, It's also hard to feel safe in those moments. In short, I could not make any clear determination on the motivation behind them denying me entry. This also means that I could not rule out discrimination as a potential motivation."
In 2015, a University of Texas student said that they were denied entry to a Whataburger in Austin, while they were wearing a leopard-print chemise, thigh-high tights, and heels. "I really believe it was transphobia-driven and I don't think it had anything to do with what I was wearing," Tyler Grant told the San Antonio Express-News at the time.
Grant says that they were initially stopped by a security officer who told them to put shoes on—they admit that they had been barefoot outside the restaurant—but when they reached for their high heels, the officer said, "Wait, are you a dude?"
Whataburger said that Grant wasn't kept outside because of their gender identity but because of what they were wearing. "Whataburger is proud to serve all customers regardless of race, gender or orientation," a spokesperson said. "This wasn't an issue of gender but of appropriate attire as this guest was dressed in lingerie. Again, we welcome everyone into our restaurants but our customers' experience is our top priority."
In the post she shared on Monday, Erika Klash urged her supporters to speak up if they experienced discrimination, but said that we all needed to "educate before we cancel."
"Lastly, let's give folks a chance to do better," she wrote.
Your move, Whataburger.