It all happened quickly, and now what exactly occurred in the two minutes between 2:35 and 2:37 a.m. on Dec. 7 is at the center of a social media controversy that has Charlotte’s oldest LGBTQ nightclub under fire.
It was during that early Saturday morning when a trans man named Niqo was kicked out of Scorpio nightclub then injured during a struggle in which he and a security guard ended up on the ground outside of the club. Niqo and others say he was targeted then assaulted because he’s trans, while management maintains that Niqo and his brother Elijah were kicked out for being “drunk and belligerent” and that the affray that followed was the result of him being “physically combative” toward security.
In security footage of the incident, seen exclusively by Queen City Nerve, security guards can be seen going into a male-only restroom to confront Niqo and Elijah, also a trans man, and asking them to leave. As seven guards push the two out the door, Niqo turns around to face the largest guard in the group. The shoving continues onto the front patio, where Niqo and the largest security guard tumble down three steps into the parking lot, with the guard landing on top of Niqo.
Niqo says he was assaulted, and has filed a police report claiming as much, while management has said it was an unfortunate incident that stemmed from Niqo’s own actions.
The incident was brought to Queen City Nerve’s attention by a Facebook post from Carrie Chanel, who was working the door at Scorpio on the night of the incident and is married to Elijah. Chanel quit her job at the club that night, and a week later made the post, which shows some of the cuts and bruises that Niqo suffered.
The post states, in part, “More than 4 security guards proceeded to physically remove them and then assault them in the parking lot. He was jumped, plain and simple. I WATCHED THEM BOUNCE MY BROTHER’S HEAD OFF OF THE FUCKING CONCRETE AND THEN HAD TO HEAR THEM BRAGGING ABOUT IT AT THE END OF THE NIGHT. They used excessive force and were proud of it. You don’t black someone’s eye, bust their lip, throw them down the stairs and drag them on the concrete because of the restroom that they use!”
Michael Sharpton, operations manager of Scorpio, was there that night, and he says Chanel’s post is “at best … misleading and over-sensationalized, and at worst … a complete falsehood.” Sharpton invited Queen City Nerve to watch the surveillance footage, which shows Niqo and his brother enter the bathroom at 2:35 a.m. The two men are with three women, which is what first draws the attention of security. The two bathrooms near the exit are the only non-gender-neutral bathrooms in the building, so security tells the women that they can’t use the restroom they’re approaching, and the women move out of the picture.
Security then entered the bathroom, and what happened next remains in dispute. Niqo and Elijah say they were simply trying to use the restroom — with Niqo standing outside of a stall so that Elijah could use it without being harassed — when security guards came in and began repeating “This bathroom is for men only,” before physically pushing them out of the bathroom.
Both men in question have had top surgery, with visible scars, and had already taken their shirts off after getting hot on the dance floor. The two men believe this is why they were followed into the bathroom in the first place.
“[Elijah] came out of the bathroom and washed his hands and we were walking out and they pushed me into the door, and honestly I didn’t know why they put their hands on me,” Niqo recalls. “I turned around and said, ‘Why’d you put your hands on me?’ Next thing I know we’re out the front door and I’m on the ground and surrounded by a bunch of people.”
According to Sharpton, when security entered the bathroom after telling the women to clear the hallway outside, they were met with “verbally combative” behavior, including racial slurs directed at security. Niqo insists any allegations that he used racial slurs are false, and were made up to smear his character following Chanel’s post.
“I’m mixed, never in my life would I ever do that. That’s not me,” Niqo said of the allegations. Niqo is light-skinned and was listed as white in the police report documenting the alleged assault.
According to Sharpton, after confronting Niqo and Elijah in the bathroom, the guards decided that the two men were too intoxicated to remain and would need to leave the bar. The two guards returned to the front lobby, where Chanel was working, to regroup before all seven went to the bathroom with flashlights in hand and asked the two men to leave. In what’s visible on video, it’s not until they are in the hallway outside of the bathroom that the shoving begins, which continues until Niqo and the guard fall down the steps outside.
In the video, Niqo can be seen grabbing the guard’s shirt before the two fall, which Sharpton said showed that he was the aggressor, although Niqo said it was a natural defense action.
“Any time I’m getting pushed, especially going down steps, I’m going to grab whatever’s behind me and they’re coming with me, that’s just the way it is,” he said.
The video disproves claims that Niqo was jumped by multiple guards in the parking lot. Though the entire group of guards helped to push Niqo out of the bar, the other guards can be seen helping up their coworker following the fall, but do not touch Niqo. The entire group then follows Niqo and Elijah to their car.
The video does not clear up questions around why Niqo and his brother were targeted in the first place and whether security went too far in pushing Niqo off the steps, as he says happened.
For Sharpton, the incident was simply an unfortunate occurrence not uncommon in nightclubs around the city.
“I hate what happened, but you know what, they were being belligerent, they were drunk, and like anyone, they would have been put out of the club,” Sharpton said. “We have a legal obligation to protect everyone else in this club, both our employees and our guests.”
But for Chanel, who worked at Scorpio for five years, the incident was the culmination of an anti-trans sentiment she said she had already began to experience during her last three shifts there, which were her first under new ownership that hired new security contractors.
Chanel, a trans woman, said she and the only other two trans women working at Scorpio had been accused of stealing by security, and that she overheard one man, who she says is the owner’s nephew, calling her “it” rather than her proper pronouns.
“It’s not enough to be educated on working in an LGBT club, you have to be accepting,” Chanel said. “You can’t just tolerate queer people, you have to enjoy all people, because that’s what Scorpio was for, it was a place where anybody could go.”
She said that she came of age at Scorpio’s and repeatedly called it “home” during our interview. However, upon her recent return, she found things to be different.
“It was completely different,” she said. “A gang mentality is the only word I have for it, because they cliqued up with themselves and that was it, it was them against us, and that’s exactly how it felt in that moment. There were seven security guards on one person.”
Many of the 255 comments under Chanel’s post made similar claims, as did Niqo’s girlfriend Jessie, who was one of the women there with him that night.
“That bar has been a staple in Charlotte as a safe haven for the LGBT community for so long, and if you’re not going to continue to have those standards, Scorpio is gone, it’s no longer the Scorpio that everybody talks about,” Jessie said. “Nobody looks at it as a safe place anymore.”
Sharpton said that he recognized a number of the commenters on Chanel’s post as people with “sour grapes,” after either being banned or fired from Scorpio in the past.
He added that he does not mandate that security or any other employees go through LGBTQ sensitivity training, but insisted that he has a good relationship with the current security team.
“Typically my spiel to them is, ‘Look, we’re in the LGBT community, I will not put up with disrespect — regardless of their sexual identity, their sexual orientation — we’re here to have a good time, to allow them to have a good time, and simply disrespecting anyone will not be put up with,” he said. “We’re here to make sure that our guests have a good time, and that’s what we do.”
Multiple sources have told us that the main security guard involved in the scuffle with Niqo was fired following the incident, though Scorpio management won’t confirm or deny that, stating that they do not comment on personnel issues.
Chanel said she had a “very close personal relationship” with Sharpton during her time at Scorpio, calling him her “work wife” for years. She said that on the night of the incident, Sharpton was the only one to apologize to her. Since then, nobody from the nightclub has reached out to Niqo or her.
According to Sharpton, however, the entire situation was an unfortunate misunderstanding.
“It’s a shame that social media has been used as a weapon. I had no intention of saying anything negative toward [Chanel] or the two gentlemen. It’s unfortunate that they chose to take this route,” he said. “At Scorpio, this is our 51st year, we have been a safe-haven for the LGBT community, and we’ll continue to be so. This narrative they put out there, that we’re transphobic or homophobic, is completely false.”
In Chanel’s opinion, however, it’s all too real, and she’s vowed never to return to the place she once called home.
“When I worked there we had gay guards; we had gay guards that made mistakes, but we also had gay guards that would fix their mistakes, and we had gay owners that made sure they would fix their mistakes,” she said. “When you don’t have anybody who’s on that LGBT spectrum, it seems like there’s nobody that cares, and the only person they have that seems like they care is Michael, and even he’s having to stand up and say that this was a drunk customer. But if he genuinely thought that’s what this was, he wouldn’t have apologized to me that night.”