Pauline will admit she lives in a bubble.
“I know one transgender person,” she offers without solicitation — but she knows a threat when she sees one, which is why she, along with other members of Keep Locker Rooms Safe (KLRS), are calling for the repeal of Washington’s new gender-neutral bathroom law.
Barely a month old — but rumbling with legal showdown potential — 162-32-060 of the Washington Administrative Code allows the use of restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and homeless and emergency shelters to correspond with the users’ gender expressions and gender identities. Additionally, the code states that users can’t be asked to use another facility based upon their gender expression or identity, nor shall they be punished for using the facilities based solely on those grounds.
Pauline, last name withheld, says the new legislation came about via “underhanded” tactics between the Kitsap and Pierce County YMCAs and Washington’s Human Rights Commission.
“They had four — in quotes — ‘public meetings’ about it,” she tells me, adding that she’s obtained documentation that the most-attended meeting saw only 12 participants. “One meeting was held at the Oasis [Youth] Center, which is an LGBT place where youth can go and feel welcome and loved. I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with the Human Rights Commission’s ‘public meetings’ [held at a place] where a lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable coming.”
A woman who preferred to go by simply Mo took my call down at the state’s Legislative Information Center and confirmed that “unless you follow an issue closely, you’re probably not aware of the public meetings about it.”
So Pauline’s got a point.
“The YMCA in Kitsap and Pierce County were complicit with the Human Rights Commission,” she says. “The CEO, Bob Ecklund, and his administrative assistant, Michelle LaRue, worked hand in glove with the LGBT [community] and the Human Rights Commission to get this into place — and they did it behind everybody’s back. They didn’t go through their board of directors, they just … did it.”
A call to the state’s Human Rights Commission (at the time of publication) had not been returned.
She says the YMCA put the new rules into place before it actually became law in Washington, and insists members weren’t informed of the change. “The only way we found out was that there was a man in the women’s restroom, and a lifeguard saw him, and it turns out, he is a she and it was like, ‘Ok, you can’t be in here,’ and he said, ‘Oh, yes I can; the rules have changed.’ [The lifeguard] went to her supervisor and [found out] ‘Yeah, this is ok.’”
A pause. “They didn’t tell anybody,” she reiterates, driving the point further. “If you, Berlin, saw a man in there and felt threatened and you questioned his gender identity and talked to an employee, you could be fined for violating his civil rights and you could be prosecuted. Frankly, the YMCA should have no business writing law — it’s not their place. ”
I gave a ring to Michelle LaRue, actually the senior vice president of YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, but the call went to voicemail. (I’ll update if she rings back.)
Back to Pauline. It’s harder to tell what aggravates her more — whether it’s the “under the table” insertion of the new code (her words; not mine), or whether it’s the fact that “bathrooms are now unsafe.”
“I don’t feel threatened by the transgender community, and 99 percent of the people on KLRS aren’t offended, threatened, or worried that the transgender community is going to pose harm on us,” she says. “That’s not what this is about.”
“’Keep Locker Rooms Safe’ connotates that you’re in harm’s way,” I tell her.
“We are — but not from the transgender community.” She invokes a concept many LGBTs commonly refer to as “safe spaces,” in which potentially upsetting ideas or scenarios are barred from entry. “I have three very close friends who are survivors of sexual exploitation,” she explains. “They have PTSD just thinking about being confronted with male genitalia in a locker room; they literally come unglued and have to go to counseling. That’s why we’re using the term safe spaces — Keep Lockers Rooms Safe.”
So now we’re back to the “man in the dressing room.” I ask her to please correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds to me like “if you’re going into the women’s bathroom, you need to look like a woman; you need to be a ‘passable’ woman, as it’s been called.”
She pauses. “In my personal opinion, yes. If they are transgender and they feel comfortable walking into the locker room, and they’re dressed like a woman, and they have a completed surgery, and they’re not going to expose themselves to my daughters or me, I have no problem with that. I don’t need to know what your genitals look like, frankly.”
“And that would clear it up: You need to be far enough along in your transition that you don’t present at all as male,” I reiterate.
“Yes,” she says, adding quickly that she doesn’t speak on behalf of everyone in the Facebook group. “I wouldn’t have a problem with a woman walking into a restroom. If you’re questionable at all, you probably wouldn’t be comfortable coming in there anyway.”
She leans in: “The deal is, this law doesn’t say that you have to be in transition — there’s no verification process at all. This law does not protect transgender people; it says anybody at any time can go into the locker room. That’s the misunderstanding — I’m not just talking about transgenders; I’m talking about anybody who wants to go in there and exploit women and children,” she says. “There’s article after article after article of men pretending to be women already.”
She directs me to a podcast in which conservative talk-radio host Todd Herman discusses the group’s intentions with a member of KLRS. “[Herman] has documentation of 20 cases — and there’s more, Google search it — of men going into women’s restrooms with upskirt cameras, of [men] trying to rape women. This has already happened. So now, we’re taking away the barriers — they don’t even have to dress up as a woman; all they have to do is say, ‘I feel like a woman,’ and they can go in there.”
I ask her why the trans community, seemingly conflated with sexual predators here, should be punished for the crimes of others.
“They’re not being punished,” she insists. “Reasonable accommodation can be made that’s not discriminatory. In the YMCA in Kitsap and Pierce County, all of them have private rooms with a toilet, a shower, sink, and a changing area. When I personally spoke to Michelle LaRue, they had no incident of any transgender individual wanting this law.”
(Again, still waiting on LaRue’s call.)
“They have the right to use the one that their genitalia corresponds to,” Pauline says flatly. “This is not about feelings; this is not about how you feel.” She drags the word out in the same way my grandfather, a grizzled vet, used to when he referred to hippies. “This is about facts.”
Pauline says of her sole transgender friend: “She chose to use the family locker room because she wasn’t comfortable in the women’s locker room because she’s not fully transitioned. Her position was, ‘Why should I risk being ridiculed?’ The children’s locker room is open to the women’s locker room. She said, ‘Why should I risk having a young girl see me? It’s embarrassing to her, it’s embarrassing to me, and what if she has questions to ask her parents that maybe she’s not ready to handle right now?”
I insist that in my experience, trans people — as frequent victims of violence and misinterpreted intentions — tend toward caution rather than exhibition in public facilities. She thinks it makes sense, and I can’t help but wonder where we’re ever going to get. Of course, we could devolve into more … spirited debate, but we’d only arrive at the same conclusion: We disagree on this issue and find one another ill-informed.
It happens. Less civilly by the day, it seems, but it happens.
“I believe that everybody should have the same rights, but at the same point, .3 percent of the population identifies as transgender — that’s less than one percent of the population. So now we have 99.7 percent of the population whose right to privacy is being violated.”
I admit that I can’t reconcile a conversation about rights from this angle, not when someone’s being denied them in the form of a bathroom ban.
“They have the right to use the one that their genitalia corresponds to,” she says flatly. “This is not about feelings; this is not about how you feel.” She drags the word out in the same way my grandfather, a grizzled vet, used to when he referred to hippies. “This is about facts.”
Aha. We’ve arrived.
“So that’s really, honestly what it boils down to — somebody’s genitalia,” I say aloud to no contradiction. I try this: “I’m a lesbian, and even though I’m attracted to women, I don’t look at other women in the locker room. Sexuality, genitalia, all that’s the furthest thing from my mind. I’m there to change out of my dirty gym clothes, shower, and get the hell out.”
“Exactly,” she agrees. “I totally hear that and I agree with you that 99 percent of transgender people are extremely circumspect, but to have this law forced down upon us opens up a can of worms that never should have been opened.”
“If it were put to a vote and a majority of the people said, ‘I don’t care,’ would Keep Locker Rooms Safe exist?” The longest pause we’ve had so far sits between us.
“That’s a good question,” she says finally. “ I don’t know.”
I tell her I can give her time to think about it, that I won’t release the story if she wants to fully satisfy that inquiry, but she declines and thinks aloud instead.
“I don’t know that I’ll have an answer. I’d just have to rethink: If Washington took a vote on an initiative, and the citizens of the state of Washington said, ‘Yeah, this law is ok’ …”
She continues a few more lines of thought and arrives here:
“If we had an open discussion and [a more public] debate, and the citizens and legislature passed this, I would not be fighting it.”
Again, she speaks for herself and not for the others in the group.
“What’s the perfect solution, Pauline?” I ask, and she describes her church bathroom: single-occupancy and gender-neutral. She says Starbucks have similar setups, something that mothers with kids, disabled individuals, and transgender people can use.
“In an ideal world, that would be the way to go,” she tells me, clearly wrapping things up. “I would like to see everyone’s privacy rights being respected. If that means we have to have a third option for a bathroom, we have a third option for a bathroom.”
We thank one another for being civil, and remark on the rarity of these instances. Here we are, two people who stand on different sides of the bathroom-bill divide, disagreeing respectfully. When asked if there was anything she’d like the world to know before we go, she says:
“I just want to emphasize that this is not against transgender individuals, that’s not what this is about. It’s about everybody being safe and respected.”
(We could go on forever.)