Mall-restroom evictions raise transgender ire
Two transgender individuals attending a weekend conference in Seattle were kicked out of a men's bathroom at Pacific Place and then ejected...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two transgender individuals attending a weekend conference in Seattle were kicked out of a men's bathroom at Pacific Place and then ejected from the downtown mall in what could become a significant test involving transgender people under the state's year-old gay-rights law.
The Aug. 31 incident led about three dozen people who were attending the Gender Odyssey Conference at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center to march on the mall in protest on Labor Day, staging what they called a "pee-in" at the fourth-floor bathrooms.
The two female-to-male transgender people involved in the incident weren't arrested but said they were mortified as a security guard led them down escalators as shoppers gawked and pointed.
"I don't think straight people can truly understand the gravity of what this means emotionally," said Sean, one of the two. He and the other man, his friend Simon, both asked that their last names not be used.
"Peeing is basic," Sean said. "Anyone who feels a need to use a bathroom should be able to do so without someone rapping on the stall while your pants are down around your ankle."
Pacific Place spokeswoman Lynn Beck said the men were ejected not for their gender identity but for being disruptive. Still, she said, the mall is taking the incident seriously and will review procedures.
Washington is among 19 states that offer protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. It's among 11 that extend those protections to transgender people.
The state Human Rights Commission said the law allows them to use restrooms that match the gender they identify with. Seattle and King County offer similar protection.
Saying they were denied that protection, Sean, 22, and Simon, 27, plan to file discrimination complaints against the mall with both the city and the state. It would be the first challenge under the state law involving an issue transgender people say is crucial.
Sean and Simon, both of Seattle, were among about 500 transgender people from across the country attending the conference. Most of those attending are transitioning from female-to-male and dress as men.
The two had gone to a movie at the AMC Theatres. Afterward, they agonized over which bathroom to use after finding the two family units on that level occupied.
They wanted the security of each other's company and because Sean, with his facial hair, looks more like a man than does Simon, they decided to use the men's bathroom.
But once inside, they said, a man began screaming at them that women don't belong in a men's bathroom. They said he even tried to climb up and peer into Simon's stall. The man called security.
The responding officer ordered the two out of the bathroom. "It was like a big public scene, him yelling the whole way down that me, being a woman, didn't belong there," Simon said.
They said that when they told him what he was doing was illegal, he asked them to cite the law and told them they could come to the office if they wanted to straighten it out.
"Obviously that wasn't an option," Simon said. "I don't want to go to jail for trying to pee."
Marc Brenman, executive director of the Human Rights Commission, said that when the sexual-orientation law was passed last year, advocates had warned bathroom accommodations for transgender people would be a tough area. In the ensuing year, the agency has fielded dozens of calls from employers about how to accommodate transgender people at work.
"I always tell people that most bathrooms have stalls with doors on them and once you're inside that stall, nobody knows what kind of plumbing you have," Brenman said.
"This is a new law and obviously there's a big need for education."
Transgender people and their advocates say that for people making the transition to the opposite sex, using any bathroom outside their homes can be filled with anxiety, and many develop bladder infections from "holding it in."
"I've been screamed out, shamed out, kicked out of bathrooms more times than I care to count," Sean said.
In fact, across the country confrontations in bathrooms are "common in the workplace, in schools, in public accommodation," said Joyful Freeman of Seattle, a transgender activist. "They've resulted in everything from assault to arrests."
Word spread at the conference about the incident involving Simon and Sean. An idea emerged for a protest, in which about 40 participants marched to Pacific Place to make a point — and to pee.
Simon said: "I feel the fact that this happened at a time when all these trans-folks were in town, with banners around downtown, creates an opportunity to have a public discussion about it."
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or email@example.com
Information in this story, originally published on September 7, 2007, was corrected on September 15, 2007. The two people kicked out of the men's bathroom at Pacific Place mall on Aug. 31 were female-to-male transgender individuals, not male-to-female as stated in this story Friday.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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