The announcement that the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin is holding female-only screenings of the upcoming movie “Wonder Woman” has caused a firestorm. Male fans are crying discrimination and the theater chain and some in the entertainment industry are pushing back. Defenders of the gender segregated screening are calling the critics “sexist” and “crybabies” and worse. However, the female-only screening is almost certainly against the Austin municipal code and could be considered a civil rights violation.

What does the law have to say about gender segregated movie screenings?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not include sex as a protected class in the context of discrimination in access to public accommodations, and Texas does not have a civil rights law that covers public accommodations. However, the city of Austin Municipal Code is very specific. “This policy is established upon a recognition of the inalienable rights of each individual to obtain goods and services in a public accommodation.” Sex is among the many protected classes that are covered under the law.

The Alamo Drafthouse may have bought itself a legal train wreck

Noting that Austin is run by a relatively liberal government, at least by Texas standards, it is unlikely that the city is going to make an issue of the matter unless pushed.

But one can see a public relations and legal nightmare ensuing upon the night of the first screening if someone decides to make an issue of the matter.

Let's suppose that someone of the male gender shows up at the screening with a duly purchased ticket and demands entry. What is the Alamo Drafthouse going to do? Will it try to physically deny entry to the customer on the basis of his sex?

Enforcing the women only mandate may well be a bad idea from the point of view of the theater chain’s legal exposure, especially if the male customer has a friend recording the encounter on social media. If the matter turns ugly (though anyone trying this gambit should never use violence), matters will get worse than anyone can imagine.

The incident will be on Facebook and Twitter within seconds. It would be in court the very next day.

What the movie theater should do

If aggrieved male fans show up at the female-only screenings with a purchased ticket, they should be admitted to the show without comment. Think of those men who are identifying as a woman for the occasion. Any men who do this should behave respectfully, but firmly, like Gandhi. because the law is on their side. The female fans should not object either, but rather sit down and enjoy the show. After all, since when did Wonder Woman need a safe space?