24 February 2012

A Pyrrhic Victory In Baltimore

When I wrote yesterday's post, all of the information I had about the passage of Baltimore County's new law came from "instant" reports, which weren't very detailed, and I couldn't find a copy of the actual law.  So, naturally, I was happy that it had passed.

However, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.  As it turns out, there is "fine print" added to Baltimore County Bill 3-12  that essentially caused it to pass.  The irony is that the people who were upset over the bill's passage most likely hadn't read it.

On page 5, lines 8-10 we find this little gem: This subtitle does not apply to the provision of facilities that are distinctly private or personal.

Now, you may have already figured out what "distinctly private or personal" means.  In case you haven't, I'll translate:  bathrooms.  Well, all right, that's just part of the translation, but it's enough to demonstrate how that clause can, in essence, negate much of the protection the bill is supposed to provide.

Most people take access to bathrooms in their workplaces, and in public spaces for granted.  However, if your appearance, mannerisms or other physical or personal qualities don't conform to societal expectations of the gender for whom the bathroom you enter is designated, you can face harassment, arrest and even physical violence.  I'm not being alarmist here: I am speaking from personal experience.

You see, eight years ago, I was harassed by a security guard at a center where I'd gone to take the GRE.  It was early in my transition, and I had just recently changed my name and acquired identification indicating that I am female.  I showed that identification to a security guard when I entered the building and to the test administrators.  

Before starting the test, I'd asked to use a restroom.  The test administrator handed me the key to the women's room, which the test center shared with other offices on the same floor of that building.  I had that restroom all to myself until another woman entered while I was washing my hands.  We said "hello" to each other, and I left.

When I re-entered the test site, the same security guard who checked me into the building waited for me.  "What were you doing in the women's room?," he bellowed.

"What women usually do in a restroom."

"What were you doing in the women's room?"

"Do you want me to go into detail?"

"You're not supposed to be in there!"

"Why not?"  I pulled out my state ID.  

"What's this?"

"I showed it to you when you checked me in."

"Yeah, and..."

"Look under 'sex'."

"What do you mean?"

I pointed to the box.  "What letter is there?"

"What's this?"

"An F."

"Oh, so you had the operation..."

I pulled the ID out of his hand.  "Have a good day."

The test administrator, and other people who were waiting to take the test, complimented me on the way I handled him.  Of course, they didn't know the rage and fear I felt. Addled by those emotions, I took the test.

That night, I called Pauline Park and mentioned the incident.  She had a very similar incident the day before in Manhattan Mall.  As it turned out, the Mall used the same security company that the testing center used.  Together, we filed a complaint that turned into a lawsuit against the company.  

In answer to the question you're probably asking, neither Pauline nor I made any money, nor was it our intention to do so.  Instead, our complaint to the city's Commission on Human Rights resulted in the security company making donations to advocacy organizations Pauline and I chose.  The ruling also mandated that the company had to institute a training program for its employees.  The CHR and the security company consulted Pauline and me on designing the program, and Pauline trained the company's HR people who, in turn, trained the rest of the employees.

I was satisfied with the outcome.  However, I haven't forgotten how I felt that day, when I was about to take the GRE.  More important, I realized how being harassed over fulfilling a basic need--using a bathroom--can render you a second-class citizen, not to mention shake your confidence in yourself and the society in which you live.  

Plus, some organizations and employers may decide that they don't want the "hassle" of providing access to the appropriate bathrooms and may, as a result, not hire transgenders or trump up charges to dismiss the ones in their employ.  In this economy and society, not having fair and equitable access to employment is tantamount to being a non-person.  That is what, in spite of the "victory" of 3-12, is still allowed in Baltimore County.

1 comment:

Kelli Anne Busey said...

Indeed a Pyrrhic victory. I have a history organizing against the passage of laws like these. Last year it was Equality Maryland which blindsided the trans community with a 'equality' bill without public accomidations, HB235.
This year it was their newly formed 'gender rights Maryland' thats doing the dirty work for them. Same faces just a different name same discrimination masked in a different cover.
Thanks for taking the time to read the bill and write about it.