UT to add gender-neutral bathrooms

The University of Texas at Austin will include at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every new campus building and convert some bathrooms in older buildings, according to the UT Daily Campus.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are becoming more common on college campuses around the country, mostly because they are advocated by LGBT groups.

But as the story points out, gender-neutral bathrooms don’t just benefit transgender people. For example, they give people with medical conditions such as diabetes a private place to administer their medication, and allow opposite-sex attendants to accompany disabled people.

Transgender students are a primary focus of the new facilities at UT, though. Students who don’t conform to gender norms might feel uncomfortable or threatened in men’s or women’s bathrooms.

Associate Vice President Linda Millstone of the Office of Institutional Equity and Workforce Diversity is leading the initiative. She said that in many buildings, there are already small bathrooms with only one or two stalls. So the only needed changes would be replacing signs and adding locks.

—  David Taffet

Questions arise over FW trans ordinance

Double negative included in addition to protections adopted last year could bar trans from using gender-specific restrooms

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Lisa Thomas
Lisa Thomas

FORT WORTH — A double negative in one sentence of an addition to the nondiscrimination protections in the Fort Worth ordinance would enshrine one form of bias against transgenders.

Proposed Section 17-48 (b) says “It shall not be unlawful for any person or any employee or agent thereof to deny any person entry into any restroom, shower room, bathhouse or similar facility which has been designated for use by persons of the opposite sex.”

Fort Worth assistant attorney Gerald Pruitt confirmed that, as written, the clause allows anyone to deny a transgender person presenting as one sex entry into a restroom if that person has not completed transition.

The concern among members of the transgender community stems from an incident in which a transgender woman was arrested in Houston for using a women’s restroom in a public library.

Earlier this year, Mayor Annise Parker issued an executive order that prohibited that form of discrimination, allowing transgenders to use whichever restroom they feel is appropriate in any city facility. The library would have been included in Parker’s order.

The November arrest contradicted the order but the action was against earlier laws already on the books.

“We have a number of transgender employees in Fort Worth,” Pruitt said. “I have no knowledge of any action like this ever being taken.”

He said that a situation arose about five years ago when someone began transitioning on the job. Someone who had been male was suddenly presenting as female and began using the woman’s room, he said.

“I think that’s where most of the angst is,” he said, explaining that someone everyone knew as a man began using the women’s restroom.

Pruitt said that the solution that satisfied everyone was that a bathroom convenient to the trans woman’s office was designated as her private restroom.

But he denied that this particular clause was in reaction to the Houston case, which he said he had not heard about before. And he said that as far as he knew, the wording was correct.

Tom Anable at Fairness Fort Worth was concerned about that one clause. He wondered why, if something was described as “not unlawful,” it would have been listed under the heading “unlawful acts.”

“I have sent it to staff at [the Human Rights Campaign] to ask for input on this,” Anable said.

Lisa Thomas, appointed to Fort Worth’s Human Rights Commission by Councilmember Joel Burns, said she had been “made aware of this discrepancy.”

“I’ve asked the chair and administrator of the commission to investigate what is the intent of these words, knowing it is not the intent to bar admission to restrooms,” Thomas said.

She said that in all discussions in the city, the intent has been not to discriminate.

“But we have to make sure we are all in alignment and right now it doesn’t seem like we are,” she said.

Tom Anable
Tom Anable

Section 17-48 (a) (1) adds language that bars discrimination against transgender persons. “Sexual orientation, transgender, gender identity or gender expression” are added to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and age as protected categories.

No “person, employee or agent” may deny anyone “advantages, facilities or services” that Section states. So section (a) (1) contradicts Section (b) since the second section does deny admission to facilities.

Section 17-48 (a) (2) makes it illegal to deny anyone admission or expel someone from a place of public accommodation “for alleged non-compliance with a dress code.”

Exemptions to the ordinance include any facility whose services are restricted to members and their guests, religious organizations, private day cares, kindergartens or nursery schools.

But that exemption applies equally to ability to discriminate based on race or religion as sexual orientation or gender identity.

Again, section (a) (2) contradicts Section (b) because admission is denied.

Violating any provision of the code is a misdemeanor. So presumably, any person discriminating against a transgender person by refusing to allow them to use a specific restroom would be charged with a misdemeanor.

The word “not” may have been placed in the sentence by mistake. If so, these additions have not been adopted yet and may be changed before the city council votes on them.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Transgender woman arrested for entering women’s bathroom at Houston library

KTRK reports that a preoperative transgender woman in Houston was arrested last week for using the women’s restroom at the city’s main library.

The woman’s arrest appears to conflict with the city’s nondiscrimination policy, enacted by Mayor Annise Parker earlier this year, which permits people to use restrooms according to their gender identity, regardless of their biological sex.

Tyjnae Moore pleaded guilty to “knowingly entering a restroom of the opposite sex” and spent two nights in jail before being given credit for time served.

Tyjnae Moore

Right-wingers have long used the restroom issue to fight discrimination protections for transgender people. So it’s hardly surprising that the Houston Area Pastors Council is seizing upon this incident, even though there’s no indication that the woman was acting inappropriately. From KRTK:

Earlier this year, Houston Mayor Annise Parker expanded an anti-discrimination executive order that allowed city employees to use restrooms based on their gender identity. But it’s unclear if that order conflicts with existing city statute. It’s one reason why the conservative Houston Area Pastor Council has asked the attorney general for an opinion.

“It’s the sort of legal and moral confusion we fully expected to take place and shows why it’s a bad public policy. It needs to be reversed because there is no legal standard of what gender identity means,” said Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council. …

The mayor’s office issued a statement Monday evening saying, “There appears to be a misunderstanding regarding applicability of my executive order and we need to clarify that. This is a matter of providing practical solutions in a diverse city. It is not about behavior. Where there is inappropriate behavior, there will be enforcement.”

UPDATE: The Houston-based Transgender Foundation of America issued the below statement late Monday. Also, Darrell Steidley, who is lead counsel in the Nikki Araguz case and a partner in Phyllis Frye’s law firm, debates the issue with Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastors Council in the video below.

Houston, TX – November 22, 2010 – A young male-to-female transgender library patron named Tyjnae Moore was arrested and taken to jail on November 17 because she, in accordance with the Houston City Ordinance, used the female bathroom at the Jesse H. Jones Library in downtown Houston.  A Houston Library security guard initiated the incident by informing an HPD officer that, “a man [sic] is in the restroom.” The arresting officer took the patron to jail for the alleged offense of violating a State of Texas law which states, “It is unlawful for any person to use a restroom of the opposite sex unless given permission…”

City of Houston Executive Order 1 – 8 and 1 – 20 ensures that all individuals regardless of race, gender identity, nationality or sexuality can have equal access to City restroom facilities. “The arrest should have never happened.” said Cristan Williams, Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America. “The City of Houston has given this victim explicit permission to use a restroom consistent with their gender.  This means that the library patron was acting in a manner consistent with both state and local law. Since she broke no law, this is a case of unlawful arrest and imprisonment.”

The victim, a native of Minnesota, states that she will be leaving Texas as soon as she can. She states that this is the second time she has been harassed by Houston police.

—  John Wright

Trans man Lance Reyna’s attacker has been released from jail, and he’s ‘about to lose it’

Terrance Calhoun

Back in June we told you about a brutal hate-crime attack against a transgender man inside a restroom on the campus of Houston Community College. Lance Reyna, a student-activist who’s both transgender and gay, was washing his hands when his attacker emerged from a stall and put a knife to his throat saying, “Hey queer, I need you to be quiet, cooperate, and give me all your valuables.” Reyna was knocked to the floor and beaten and kicked. His wallet and credit cards were taken. Terrance Calhoun, 22, was later arrested on campus and charged with aggravated robbery in the attack that occurred during Houston’s gay Pride week. Three months later, Calhoun has bonded out of jail as he awaits sentencing.

“I just got informed that my attacker is out of JAIL, someone please calm me down because I’m about to lose it,” Reyna wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

“I feel hopeless right now, plus all the bullying not being taken serious is something I can relate from my younger days in school,” he added Thursday night.

“Just spoke with HPD investigator, threatening text message has been documented. When number was ran it came up with a history,” Reyna wrote Friday morning.

Cristan Williams of the Houston-based Transgender Foundation for America reports on her blog that police don’t plan to pursue hate crime charges against Calhoun:

“Since the attacker won’t fess up to knowing that Lance was part of the GLBT community, he won’t be held accountable under State or Federal hate crime statutes and the case will be prosecuted as a simple assault,” Williams wrote. “As it stands now, he’s out of jail and may get off with a slap on the wrist and some community service because this is his, ‘first time offence’ (according to the DA’s office)!”

UPDATE: We spoke with Reyna on Friday afternoon, and he said Calhoun pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, earlier this month. Calhoun bonded out of jail this week while he awaits sentencing in early November, but Reyna said a prosecutor told him Calhoun could receive probation because it’s his first felony.

Reyna said the FBI investigated the case under the new federal hate crimes law that passed last year. However, because Calhoun wouldn’t admit that he targeted Reyna because he is transgender, the FBI opted not to pursue hate crimes charges. This was despite the fact that Calhoun used an anti-LGBT slur, “queer,” during the attack.

“I’m really disgusted with the way they don’t want to take things seriously,” Reyna said of authorities.

Reyna, who now attends the University of Houston, said Calhoun lives just a few blocks away from the campus, and he’s concerned for his safety. He said he hopes Calhoun is sentenced to at least 2 1/2 years behind bars, to give him a chance to finish school.

“That way, there would be less of a chance of me running into him,” Reyna said. “I had calmed down a little bit, but now I’m back to when it initially happened. I’m reliving the attack, and I don’t want to deal with the hell I went through right after it. It’s too much for me to deal with right now, just knowing he’s out on the streets.”

Reyna said it took him three weeks to recover from a concussion he sustained in the attack, and he’s currently undergoing counseling.

“They say have a lot of systems of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “I have my good days and bad days, buy my level of anxiety just went up a couple of notches with him getting out of jail.”

Reyna said he also received a threatening text message a few days before Calhoun got out, but he is unsure who sent it. He has reported the message to police.

Williams, of the TFA, said she’s concerned about the standard that’s apparently being used by authorities to determine whether offenses are hate crimes. Texas’ hate crimes statute doesn’t include protections for transgender people, but the new federal law does.

“Apparently the attackers just have to come out and say, ‘Yes it’s a hate crime. I hate them, I was motivated by hate, now take me off to jail,’” Williams said. “Basically, unless they can have evidence that is beyond the pale, that is incontrovertible, they can’t prosecute it is as a hate crime.

“It would break if my heart, and it would make me lose a lot of respect for our legal system, if this guy gets off with a slap on the wrist and some community service after attacking a trans man with a deadly weapon and sending him to the hospital,” Williams said.

—  John Wright