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Muslim woman says Denver arena worker told her to remove hijab, refused to let her enter

A Muslim woman said she was discriminated against after a Pepsi Center employee demanded she remove her hijab before entering the Denver arena.

Gazella Bensreiti, 36, a mother of three girls, said in a Facebook post that she was at the arena Nov. 5, where her 8-year-old daughter was going to sing the national anthem with her school choir.

When Bensreiti went to pick up her ticket, she said a female employee told her “take that thing off,” referring to Bensreiti’s hijab, a headwrap some Muslim women wear in public.

Bensreiti said she refused to take it off, telling the worker that she wears it because of her religion.

“She responded, ‘I don’t care, you can’t come in with it on.’ I then asked if she’d be willing to take me to the side so that I could remove it and show her my entire head in private. Again, she told me no,” Bensreiti wrote, adding that a group of white men standing in front of her still had baseball caps on.

Bensreiti said the employee eventually went into an office and when she came back out, told Bensreiti to go ahead “without making eye contact or even acknowledging me as a human being, but ushered me like an animal.”

Bensreiti also accused the worker of yelling at her in front of other people. She said she was eventually able to get her ticket but said the incident left her in tears.

“I have never experienced this type of trauma in my entire life. I know my rights as an American citizen. Not only did she traumatize me and my daughter, she infringed upon my civil rights. I have never felt so embarrassed and broken before,” the post read

The Colorado chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference Wednesday afternoon with Bensreiti, to call on Pepsi Center officials to investigate the incident and change its policy regarding religious attire of people attending events.

Bensreiti got emotional as she talked about the incident.

“Wearing the hijab to me is part of my religion. It’s hard enough to wear your hijab and live your life as a Muslim woman,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Pepsi Center called the incident a “misunderstanding” and said the employee “didn’t recognize Ms. Bensreiti was wearing a hijab.” Bensreiti was allowed to enter the venue after a supervisor intervened, the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Pepsi Center prides itself on creating a safe and inclusive environment for all patrons regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, disability and sexual orientation,” the statement read.

It continued: “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. While the matter is still under review, we are taking steps to modify our screening process and provide additional education for our staff.”

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