At the end of 2015, two human rights commissions over 2,800 miles apart enacted new rules that could be precedent-setting for the gender battle across the nation, including giving people the right to use whichever locker rooms and bathrooms they choose.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights issued guidelines Dec. 21 to clarify what “constitutes gender identity and gender-expression discrimination” under the city’s 2002 Human Rights Law. The new policy addresses discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation, and housing.
The guidelines offer several definitions that categorize people according to their self-defined sexual identity, including transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex. Instead of male or female, the identity of “cisgender” is offered as “an adjective denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex, i.e., someone who is not transgender.”
The rules list examples of what the commission considers discriminatory such as repeated failure to use an individual’s preferred name or pronoun. Employers, landlords and businesses serving the public cannot require employees, tenants, or customers to provide legal or medical proof of their gender or name before accommodating their requests.
“For example,” the rules state, “a covered entity may not refuse to call a transgender woman her preferred name, Jane, because her identification says that her first name is John.”
Employers are also forbidden from requiring different male and female dress codes and grooming standards. Companies with male and female uniforms must allow workers to pick which uniform they wear. In addition, companies’ healthcare benefits must now cover “transgender care” the commission considers “medically necessary” and “life-saving” such as hormone-replacement therapy, voice training, and surgery.
Finally, because requiring proof of transgender status illegal, the rules effectively authorize anyone to utilize any single-sex program or facility of his or her choice, from battered women’s shelters to public locker rooms. For those who are uncomfortable with such an arrangement, the commission recommends companies provide single-occupancy restrooms and private space for anyone who has privacy concerns.”
The commission can impose civil penalties up to $125,000 for violating the law and up to $250,000 for violations it considers “willful, wanton or malicious conduct.”
Meanwhile, as of Dec. 26, a new rule created by the Washington State Human Rights Commission requires buildings open to the public to allow transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.
The Washington commission began considering the new policy in 2012. At that time, officials at Washington’s Evergreen State College declared the state’s non-discrimination policy prevented the school from stopping a transgendered person from exposing male genitalia in the women’s locker room. Local high school students and swim team clubs with children ages 6-18 shared use of the facility with the college, Christian News Network reported.
According to a police report filed Sep. 2012, a 17-year-old girl reported a person sitting naked in the women’s sauna with exposed male genitalia. The girl’s swim coach investigated and found Colleen Francis sitting “with her legs open and her male genitalia showing.” Upon being asked to leave, Francis claimed discrimination, and school officials agreed.
The college eventually installed curtains in the locker room and announced any girls uncomfortable changing in front of the 45-year-old Francis should change behind them, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom. A local district attorney said the state would not enforce Washington’s indecent exposure statute to protect the girls because the law was “very vague in this area,” the police report noted.
“[The new rule] arguably creates a conflict with the state’s indecent exposure law, which otherwise prohibits exposing yourself to others while ‘knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.’ Or maybe women no longer have the right to be alarmed at the sight of a naked man in the women’s locker room,” blogged Joseph Backholm, executive director for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.
Some organizations in Washington are quickly falling in line with the state’s demands. The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties promised immediate compliance. YMCA of Tacoma announced a plan to spend over $1 million to upgrade its locker rooms to “enhance privacy.”
In both Washington and New York City, concerns abound over bathroom safety and privacy in wake of the transgender policies enacted last month by unelected officials.
In Washington, lawmakers are already drafting bills to counter the new rules, accusing the state of overstepping its authority when it circumvented the legislature on such a major policy change.
“My concern is the safety side,” Republican State Rep. Graham Hunt told The Washington Times. “There are folks who have come forward and reached out to me that have been taken advantage of, put into abusive situations because of somebody who’s been allowed access to private, intimate settings like locker rooms and bathrooms. I don’t really see privacy as a partisan issue.”
— by Sarah Padbury