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Rights drive stalls.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

The city's effort to expand its anti-discrimination law to protect transgendered people has been delayed for months - because transgendered residents themselves can't agree on what it should say.

The sticking point, ironically, is the same issue that bothered then-Mayor Jim Torrey and others back in 2002: whether males who say they identify as females should be allowed in women's public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower areas.

Earlier this year, a Gender Identity Work Group unanimously recommended that revisions to the city's human rights code include allowing people to enter whichever public bathroom, locker room or shower they regard as "most appropriate" for their gender identity.

But other residents - including former men who have undergone sex reassignment surgery - say it's reasonable to ask people claiming to be transgendered to provide a driver's license or other identification to prove they are legally the gender they say they are.

"We clearly need protection for gender identity, but we also clearly need to respect that everybody's safety is kept in mind," said Rebecca Taylor, who underwent reassignment surgery last year. "No reasonable human being wants to make society less safe for women."

The dispute comes at a time when Eugene is considering whether to join 79 other cities, counties and states across the country that already have added gender identity to the list of "classes" protected from discrimination in public employment, housing and accommodations.

The overwhelming majority of those jurisdictions' laws do not mention access to bathrooms or other sex-segregated public facilities, according to Lisa Mottet, legislative lawyer for the Transgender Civil Rights Project in Washington, D.C. Most of the laws have passed with little or no controversy, and with no reports of predatory behavior or other problems, Mottet said.

In Oregon, Multnomah County and the cities of Portland, Lake Oswego and Beaverton have gender identity laws that allow health clubs and other businesses with gender-specific public areas to require a person to document their gender. But similar laws in Bend and Benton County do not.

In Eugene, the initial proposal for gender identity protection did not address access to public areas. But after then-Mayor Torrey and others raised concerns about the use of public bathrooms, advocates felt they needed to address the issue head-on.

Ultimately, the City Council in 2002 approved a package of revisions to the human rights code but dropped language relating to transgendered rights in the face of Torrey's threatened veto. Advocates vowed to return to the council after completing an extensive public education campaign - and following the election of a new mayor and council deemed more sympathetic to their cause.

The original timetable called for the city Human Rights Commission to endorse and forward new language to the council last spring. But that's been pushed back several times in the face of disagreement among transgendered residents and others. The commission plans to take up the issue again Tuesday, and when the matter reaches the council is still anyone's guess.

The subject is complicated by the fact that Mayor Kitty Piercy, while receptive to the need for gender identity protection, has said she wants to see a unanimous recommendation from the human rights commission. Such unanimity is viewed as making it less likely that either the council or petition-wielding citizens would refer the matter to voters.

The public facilities issue is not limited to athletic clubs and gyms; the Christian-based Eugene Mission homeless shelter, for example, has separate lodges for men, women and mothers with children, and regards a person's gender identity as the person's actual gender at birth.

Hugh Massengill, a human rights commissioner who years ago lived at the mission, said he personally prefers an exemption that would allow businesses to ask transgendered people to document their gender. But he said what's most important is that, with or without an exemption, the code changes get sent to the council and passed into law.

David Kelly, both a councilor and human rights commissioner, is also a strong advocate for an expanded law - but is less enthusiastic about an exemption that could allow some transgendered people, but not others, to use certain public facilities.

"Once you say it's important for our community's character that we provide equal rights to transgendered people, it seems undesirable to me to say, `Equal rights, except here,' ' he said.

Human rights commissioner Jeremiah Megowan said he worries the debate is something of a red herring that can play on people's fears.

"I think maybe a lot of people have forgotten that, just because a law says a person can use public facilities, that doesn't mean that any Joe Henry can walk into a women's shower and not be criminally charged," he said. "There are still public indecency laws."

Toby Hill-Meyer, a Gender Identity Work Group member, said the group's proposal is best because "it serves the broadest base of people possible."

But Hill-Meyer, who identifies as a "gender queer" uncomfortable with either male or female labels, also wonders how many people are moved by the public facilities issue one way or the other.

"People seem generally supportive or generally in opposition (to gender identity protection), no matter how this is worded," Hill-Meyer said. "I don't see this as swaying too many people."

City human rights analyst Greg Rikhoff calls the proposal to require ID "an inappropriate and unfair burden." Many transgendered people, say Rikhoff and others, don't have the financial means or inclination to have their gender status legally changed, or to obtain therapy counseling or reassignment surgery.

Forcing some transgendered people to show documentation can also feel discriminatory, humiliating and invalidating, he said.

Rikhoff also suggested there's something of a class issue between younger transgendered people still sorting out their gender and work identities, and more established transgendered people.

"These are older folks with (work) benefits, secure in their lives, who've had a relatively easy transition," he said. "Their insensitivity to those who've not had so easy an experience is just really frustrating."

But Taylor, a self-employed businesswoman, said her concerns are strictly about the safety of women - and children. The parent of two, Taylor said she shouldn't have to guard against her young daughter seeing male genitalia in a women's locker room or shower area. Taylor said she's less concerned about public restrooms, where stalls protect against unintended displays of nudity.

Taylor says there's a range of permissible documents - court order, passport, driver's license or letter from a psychologist, licensed therapist or doctor, among others - that could be used to prove one's transgendered status.

But whatever the documentation, "I don't think that's too much a burden to put on transsexuals in order to preserve public safety," she said. "I have no problem assuring the public that this is a reasonable request, and that efforts are being made to assure that the proper people are in the proper facilities."

Sheila Coats, a bus driver and transgendered woman, previously served on the Gender Identity Work Group that recommended against requiring documentation. But Coats said she was pressured, and actually favors the documentation requirement.

"Everyone has rights, including the right to use public showers and locker rooms without being offended," she said. "There's a 99.9 percent chance that nothing would ever happen, but if it's on the books, something could."

Coats said gender identity protection is important enough to her that she supports adding it to the city's anti-discrimination law even without a documentation clause. But Taylor said she's unable to support an anti-discrimination law without such a clause.

"I have a lot of women friends and lesbian friends, and everyone feels the same way," she said. "Our society is not ready to eliminate distinctions between men's and women's spaces."

EUGENE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

Panel takes another look at proposal to expand anti-discrimination law to protect transgendered residents

When/where: 6 p.m. Tuesday, McNutt Room, City Hall, 777 Pearl St. Public comment allowed at start of meeting. Status report; no final commission action expected.

Information/questions: Call 682-5177

DEFINITION OF TERMS

Gender identity: A person's innate sense of gender, regardless of assigned sex at birth

Transsexual: A person who is predisposed to identify with the opposite sex, or who has undergone surgery and hormone injections to effect a change of sex

Transgender: An umbrella term to describe a range of individuals who identify with the full or partial reversal of gender roles. Includes pre-operative and post-operative transsexuals; transsexuals who have no desire for sex reassignment surgery; transvestites (cross-dressers) and impersonators; and "gender queers" who don't identify with either gender. "Transman" refers to someone who has moved from female to male identification; "transwoman" to someone who has moved from male to female.

GENDER IDENTITY PROTECTION

Jurisdictions with anti-discrimination laws on the books

Nationally: Seventy-nine cities, counties and states, representing 28 percent of the U.S. populace; includes the states of California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Rhode Island

In Oregon: Benton and Multnomah counties, and the cities of Beaverton, Bend, Lake Oswego and Portland

CAPTION(S):

Rebecca and Marsha Taylor wed in 1992, when Rebecca was male. Rebecca says safety is the key to any city code changes.
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Title Annotation:Government; An anti-discrimination measure falters in the ladies room
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 15, 2005
Words:1520
Previous Article:He becomes a she, and still the marriage endures.
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