Saturday, April 09, 2005

Coming to a Restroom Near You?

As goes New York City, so goes the rest of the country?

According to an article in the April 2nd New York Times, "Transgender Group Reaches Agreement on Restrooms"," New York City's anti-discrimination laws were toughened two years ago to forbid "discrimination based on sexual identity whether or not it differs from a person's biological sex."

The first settlement under that amendment was issued by the city's Commission on Human Rights on April 1st. It found that employees of Advantage Security, a New York security guard company, discriminated against two people when they demanded to see identification after they used women's restrooms.
[Pauline Park] said that she had been having lunch with friends and was "taken aback" when five guards - four men and a woman - stopped her after she used the restroom a second time that day. The first time occurred without incident, she said.

"They encircled me in a very menacing and hostile stance," Ms. Park said.

"The female security guard demanded to know, 'Are you a man or a woman?'" Ms. Park said. "I said to her that I identify as a woman. And she said, 'One of my colleagues thought you were a man.'" . . .

Last March, an Advantage Security guard asked Justine Nicholas for identification after she came out of a women's restroom in a Manhattan office building where she was taking the Graduate Record Examination.
You need to understand, however. "Like Ms. Park, Ms. Nicholas was born male but identifies herself and lives as a woman."

And there's the rub. It doesn't matter if they are biologically male. What matters is that Park and Nicholas view themselves as female. And so, now,
[u]nder the terms of the settlement, Advantage Security will adopt and enforce a policy allowing people to use bathrooms "consistent with their gender identity," said Michael D. Silverman, executive director and general counsel for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the two complainants before the commission. The company will also pay $2,500 to each complainant.
I wish the company good luck. Their risks just increased exponentially.

I am a member of an online community made up almost entirely of mothers of young children. We were discussing the implications of this case. "I am the mother of six daughters," wrote one. "I can just imagine that this decision will now permit sexual predators to simply dress in drag for admission to women's restrooms. Who will keep the rapists and molesters out? Are we now supposed to 'assume' any guy in drag is a woman in his mind???"

Others posted about being in women's restrooms where they have found men (in men's clothing), and cross-dressers and/or "pre-op transsexual" individuals and/or sexual predators (???who is to know???). They described how scary and creepy it was for them. One woman described having some cross-dresser/pre-op/sexual predator (???again, who is to know???) come and sit down right beside her as she was seated in the women's restroom lounge--a place she had always understood was set aside for women to breast-feed their babies. . . . Obviously, whoever he was, he was not there to breastfeed an infant. . . . So why should he have the right to be present? Because he feels like he belongs? Because he pretends to feel as if he belongs (when, in truth, he is there "simply" for his own sexual gratification)? . . . Obviously, prior to Park's and Nicholas' "victory," such a person could not argue that he had a legal right. But now . . . ?

Several women posted stories of those they know who have been molested in public restrooms. One said she had been raped.

I suggested that, despite their fears, maybe this legal change wasn't quite as big a deal as they were thinking. After all, the law as it has been hasn't prevented the kinds of things that bother them. Further, I said, honestly, sometimes I feel very vulnerable when standing at a urinal in a public men's room. Indeed, sometimes I feel so uneasy that I mentally steel myself to "be prepared" to defend myself in case some guy tries to come up and attack me while I am exposed in the way one is exposed when urinating. . . .

Maybe we "simply" need to be more aware of our need to defend ourselves?

One of the forum participants replied:
You feel vulnerable at a urinal? How do you think a woman who is trying to keep track of three small children and needs to use the restroom herself feels? As hard as it is for you to imagine defending yourself while caught in the act, imagine how difficult for a woman who has 'other' personal issues to care for in the restroom!

Women are MORE vulnerable in a restroom than a man.

I'm a tall, well built woman who regularly hefts 80# sacks of grain and such. Most women do not.

*I* know from experience that in MOST instances, if I had to defend myself against an 'average' man, I would physically be overpowered and lose.


My children even more so!

Whether a man is dressed in slacks or a dress, he still has the increased leverage of a man's build, along with the greater muscle mass, and the larger quantity of testosterone coursing through his vessels. Those things make him a more powerful creature than I am. Even a male who is taking female hormones will STILL have his male frame and muscle structure working in his favor.

A sexual predator in the throes of a hunt has even more testosterone and adrenaline which increases the discrepancy between our strengths.

A transsexual may choose to think, dress and behave like a woman, but he still has the strength and the frame of a man. *HE* may pose no harm to anyone, BUT by him forcing himself into a private place where women are especially vulnerable, and having laws changed and patterned to do likewise for others, he has now given an excuse for men who really are predators to 'be,' regularly and freely, in those same places.
Pauline Park is a relatively high-profile person. S/he is co-chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA). Indeed, I found his/her email address on the NYAGRA website. And so I have written to him/her:
How do you believe these women's human rights, and their concerns about safety for themselves and their children, can be upheld? Perhaps the Civil Rights Commission addressed these concerns?
Somehow, I doubt it.

I look forward to hearing back from Pauline.
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