Woman Told to Remove Hijab Before Denver Nuggets Game

Woman Told to Remove Hijab Before Denver Nuggets Game

A Muslim woman said she was discriminated against before an N.B.A. game in Denver when she was told that she had to remove her hijab.

The woman, Gazella Bensreiti, 36, a receptionist from Westminster, Colo., said in an interview on Thursday that she was headed to pick up her ticket at will call at the Pepsi Center for a Denver Nuggets game on Nov. 5 to watch her 8-year-old daughter perform the national anthem with her school’s choir.

A female employee “put her hand to my face and told me that I would have to ‘take that thing off’ of my head,” Ms. Bensreiti wrote in a Facebook post earlier this month. “I have never felt so embarrassed and broken before.”

“I hope that no one is ever treated the way I was treated, especially in front of my daughter,’’ Ms. Bensreiti, who has two other daughters, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

According to The Denver Post, Becca Villanueva, a spokeswoman for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the venue and the Nuggets, said in a statement that the episode was a misunderstanding “when a security agent didn’t recognize that Ms. Bensreiti was wearing a hijab. A supervisor quickly intervened, and Ms. Bensreiti entered.”

(Kroenke uses Argus, a private company, to manage security checkpoints for admission on game days, Ms. Villanueva told The Post.)

“While the matter is still under review, we are taking steps to modify our screening process and provide additional education for our staff,” the statement said. “We have reached out to Ms. Bensreiti and look forward to engaging in honest discourse that leads to greater awareness and an opportunity to further celebrate the diversity that makes Denver such a special place.”

Ms. Villanueva did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday, nor did officials with the Pepsi Center or representatives for the Miami Heat, the team that played the Nuggets on Nov. 5. A spokesman for the Nuggets referred requests for comment to Kroenke. A person who answered the phone at an Argus office in Denver referred inquiries to an Argus representative, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

A lawyer for Ms. Bensreiti, Gadeir Abbas, said in an interview Thursday that the Nuggets “have a legal obligation to provide equal accommodations to all people regardless of their faith,” and that the team “did not meet that obligation here. The issue is simple, they just really need to make sure that this never happens again.”

Mr. Abbas, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, called for arena officials to investigate the episode and address how security personnel approach the religious attire of patrons. The Pepsi Center’s venue guide online does not appear to specify clothing restrictions.

When the employee told Ms. Bensreiti to remove her hijab on Nov. 5, Ms. Bensreiti wrote in the Facebook post, “I told her that I would not take it off due to religious reasons.”

Ms. Bensreiti wrote that the employee responded by saying, “I don’t care, you can’t come in with it on.” Ms. Bensreiti asked the employee if she would be willing to take her aside so Ms. Bensreiti could remove it and “show her my entire head in private,” according to the post.

The employee refused, Ms. Bensreiti wrote. Ms. Bensreiti noted in the Facebook post that there were several “white men standing ahead of me with baseball caps on.”

Her 8-year-old daughter became upset and concerned that her mother might not be able to see her sing, Ms. Bensreiti wrote.

The employee then went into an office and returned “and waved me to go ahead through, without making eye contact or even acknowledging me as a human being, but ushered me like an animal,” Ms. Bensreiti wrote.

She was able to see her daughter perform with classmates, Ms. Bensreiti said on Thursday, but they left before the Nuggets game. The girl and her classmates had worn matching blue and yellow “Sing for Rocky” T-shirts that feature the Nuggets’ mascot, Rocky the mountain lion, according to a photo Mr. Abbas provided to The New York Times.

“This was a distressing incident that Gazella and her daughter will remember forever,” Mr. Abbas said on Thursday. “Every time they go to a security screening, going forward, they are going to have this in the back of their heads.”

In September, the Toronto Raptors introduced a new line of team-branded hijabs in an effort to be more inclusive to fans of all cultures.


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