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Gay rights task force retreats.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

Citing the need for more public education, a gay rights task force has recommended that the city of Eugene abandon plans to offer legal protection to transgendered people - at least for now.

The recommendation will be considered Tuesday by the Eugene Human Rights Commission, which is expected to honor the Lane Gender Task Force's request.

The surprise move comes amid failed efforts to find consensus among local transgendered residents - some of whom felt the law should allow people to use whichever public shower, locker or bathroom they regard as "most appropriate" for them. Others felt the law should require transgendered people using such facilities to provide documentation proving they are legally the gender they claim to be.

Maceo Persson, a transgendered university student and the task force's spokesman, said such disagreement was a factor but not the main reason for the strategic retreat. More important, he said, was an informal campaign that revealed low levels of community awareness about gender identity issues.

"It's hard to know that people don't know what `transgender' means or the discrimination we face," he said. "But this is also an opportunity for (even greater) outreach."

In a letter dated Wednesday to the human rights commission, the task force added that, in the absence of better community understanding, efforts to expand the city's anti-discrimination law to include protection on the basis of gender identity "would surely become a painfully divisive public issue."

The word "transgender" applies to a range of individuals who identify with the full or partial reversal of gender roles, including transsexuals who may or may not have undergone surgery or hormone injections to effect a change in sex.

Carmen Urbina, chairwoman of the human rights commission, said she can't speak for the full group but personally is inclined to honor the task force's recommendation. "I absolutely support and understand where they're coming from, and if they say the community needs more education, the community needs more education," she said.

Mayor Kitty Piercy said she respects the task force's recommendation, but remains concerned about discrimination against transgendered people.

"I urge community members to take the time to better understand transgendered issues and to address discrimination when they see it," she said. "People who are transgendered are members of our community just like anyone else, and are deserving of respect, justice and opportunity."

Piercy said she doesn't personally support legislation requiring transgendered people to show documentation when using sex-segregated public facilities, saying, "I don't really want the gender police."

But she said some language ultimately needs to find its way into city code. "It's our civic obligation to ensure everyone is treated fairly," she said.

At least 80 other cities, counties and states - including Washington state just last month - already have added gender identity to the list of "classes" protected from discrimination in public employment, housing and accommodations. In Oregon, jurisdictions with such laws include Multnomah and Benton counties, and the cities of Bend, Beaverton, Lake Oswego and Portland.

Some jurisdictions require a person using sex-segregated public facilities to document their gender, and others do not.

In Eugene, an initial proposal for gender identity protection fizzled in 2002 when then-Mayor Jim Torrey and others raised concerns about the use of public bathrooms. Advocates vowed to return to the issue after completing a public education campaign that's been ongoing for several years, and following the election of a new mayor and council deemed more sympathetic to their cause.

Last week, Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed an executive order creating a statewide task force charged with looking at discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Persson said local advocates support the statewide effort. "But we're still very much committed to making sure there's also a code change locally," he said.

The Lane Gender Task Force is a private, not city, group and includes about 10 members, Persson said. It picked up the issue last year after a city-appointed gender identity work group completed its work, unanimously recommending that the city's law be expanded to protect transgendered people, without the requirement of documentation.

Others, meanwhile, welcomed the task force's decision for entirely different reasons.

At the Eugene Mission, for example, Executive Director Ernie Unger said the Christian agency was so concerned about a possible change in city law - and what it could mean if males identifying as female insisted on being allowed to sleep in the mission's women's dorm - that it recently hired an attorney to represent its interests.

"We've never wanted to take a stand that transgendered people don't have a place in the world, but there has to be a way to make it work for all people without hurting anyone," Unger said.

Two other residents, Bill Northrup and Nancy Hansen, have alleged that the city has been unnecessarily secretive about the process ever since it became apparent that transgendered residents were in disagreement about the issue. Some transgender advocates, they said, have met privately with the city attorney and other city officials about the issue - a claim the city staff doesn't dispute but says is legal and appropriate.

Northrup said he worries that granting legal protection on the basis of gender identity will inevitably spill over into advocacy. "My concern is when they write that gender is just a matter of opinion about oneself, and I think that's so harmful to society and kids," he said.

WHAT'S NEXT

Human rights commission will discuss gender identity protection

When/where: 6 p.m. Tuesday, McNutt Room, City Hall, 777 Pearl St.

More information: 682-5177
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Title Annotation:Government; The group recommends that more community awareness is needed before plans for transgender protection go forward
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 17, 2006
Words:922
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