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Rights commission shelves transgender protection.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 3/9/2006): James Dean is a volunteer in the city of Eugene's human rights office. His relationship with the city was mischaracterized in a story on Page C1 on Wednesday.

A divided and reluctant Eugene Human Rights Commission decided Tuesday against recommending changes to city law that would protect people from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity.

On a 9-3 vote, the commission instead heeded the advice of the Lane Gender Task Force, whose members said more community education is needed before going forward with any such legislation.

Commission members said they were torn by a desire to recommend protection language to the City Council and by the need to respect the task force's plea to hold off.

"If not us, who? If not now, when?" said commission member Hugh Massengill, who nonetheless voted with the majority.

Commissioners Elizabeth Aydelott, Christina Greening and David Kelly, the lone city councilor on the commission, voted against the motion, arguing against any more delay in the years-long effort to expand the city's anti-discrimination law on behalf of transgendered people.

"Education didn't work before, and I'm so scared it's not going to work again," Aydelott said. "I'm not confident that the community will be more receptive in a few years than it is now."

The commission appointed a subcommittee to work with the Lane Gender Task Force, which last month recommended a 10-point community education plan. The plan's suggestions range from hosting transgender art shows to city sponsorship of an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance spotlighting the bias faced by transgendered people.

The commission's vote came after 16 people testified about the proposed language, with a slim majority asking for a delay.

"I'm very proud of the language, but the larger community is not at a place where the conversation will be constructive," said Alethia Hostetter, a task force member who identifies as a gender queer, who doesn't identify as exclusively male or female.

Sheila Coats was the sole transgendered person to speak in favor of going forward with the recommended changes. "I don't want to postpone this anymore," Coats said. "It's been five years now, and it's time that Eugene has gender identity (protection) in its ordinance."

City employee James Dean also argued for proceeding now, saying the failure to do so means that the issue isn't likely to return to the City Council for at least two or three years.

The commission's decision pleased several others who said they oppose the idea of gender identity protection on moral or business grounds. Bob Gordon, a self-employed businessman, said transgendered people and their advocates were essentially asking for "special rights" that could prove unnecessarily burdensome to employers.

Rocky Stewart accused the city of failing to provide alternative research about gender identity, its causes and therapy options. He challenged the city's estimate that 100 transgendered people live in Eugene, maintaining that a more accurate estimate is three.

Lynn Antis, assistant director of the Eugene Mission, said he took exception to the gender task force's assertion that the Christian-based homeless shelter is "disinclined to provide services to trans people." The mission, he said, provides services to transgendered people, and has enough beds to meet demand, but requires people to sleep in segregated dormitories consistent with their sexual anatomy.

The gender identity language also was opposed by Eugene School District officials, who have said building principals must be given sufficient leeway to weigh the needs of all students in determining the use of restrooms.

The decision to delay action came after local transgendered residents last fall were unable to agree on anti-discrimination language.

Some felt the law should allow people to use whichever public shower, locker or bathroom they regarded as "consistent" with their gender identity. Others felt the law should require transgendered people using such facilities to provide documentation proving they are legally the gender they claim to be.

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

At least 80 cities, counties and states - including Washington state in January - already have added gender identity to the list of "classes" protected from discrimination. In Oregon, jurisdictions with such laws include Multnomah and Benton counties, and the cities of Bend, Beaverton, Lake Oswego and Portland.
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Title Annotation:Government; The city panel agrees with a task force that more public education is needed before a change in law is proposed
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 8, 2006
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