Paula Witherspoon

A transgender woman who was ticketed for using a women’s restroom at Parkland hospital last week has a criminal background and is a registered sex offender, Instant Tea has learned.

On Tuesday, we reported that 56-year-old Paula Witherspoon, of Dallas, was cited for disorderly conduct on April 25 after using a women’s restroom at Parkland, Dallas County’s public hospital.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Witherspoon was convicted of sexual assault of a child involving a 14-year-old girl in 1990 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. That same year, Witherspoon was also convicted of indecency with a child by sexual contact, involving a 15-year-old girl, and sentenced to six years in prison. According to DPS, Witherspoon remains on parole for the indecency conviction.

“Yes, I have a criminal record,” Witherspoon said Wednesday. “I can’t hide that. It’s public record. I made a mistake 22 years ago that has nothing to do with this.”

Ken Upton, supervising senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, agreed.

“That may be relevant in other settings,” Upton said, “and it paints a bad picture.”

But he said there’s no evidence that in this instance, Witherspoon did anything other than use a bathroom.

“Transgender people have a right to use a bathroom,” he said.

He explained circumstances where Witherspoon’s criminal history might be relevant — if she had followed a child into a restroom or if she had been looking in other stalls — but he said there was no account of anything like that happening.

The account of the incident that Witherspoon repeated Wednesday was that she entered the bathroom, used a stall, washed her hands and left. The complaint against her was not made by someone else in the bathroom. She said she wasn’t sure if there even was anyone else in the bathroom.

The complainant was an older woman sitting in a waiting room outside the bathroom who made a comment about a man using a ladies’ room.

“The real story here is not that she used the bathroom every health professional says she should be using,” Upton said.

Rather, he said the story is that one of the largest health providers in the state, which also has one of the largest psychiatric units in Texas would have ticketed a transgender person for using the appropriate bathroom.

However, Parkland has indicated that a similar situation hasn’t happened before and there’s simply a lack of policy. Dr. Roberto de la Cruz, a an openly gay member of Parkland’s Board of Managers, was planning to meet with Witherspoon on Wednesday afternoon and said he had already spoken with the hospital’s CEO. Their intent is to present a new policy.

After Tuesday’s story, questions arose about the date of a letter from Dr. Gloria J. Emmert, Witherspoon’s psychologist at the Dallas VA Medical Center. That letter was dated two days after the ticket was issued.

After receiving the ticket, Witherspoon said she went to see Emmert.

“I was devastated and needed to speak to my psychologist,” Witherspoon said.

She said she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong but wanted to know what she was supposed to do in a similar situation. It was then the psychologist wrote the letter that said explicitly that Witherspoon is expected to use the women’s restroom at the VA hospital, and that other hospitals should respect that.

Other commenters asked why the Dallas city nondiscrimination ordinance doesn’t apply. That law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations throughout the city. However, the law has an exemption for other governmental entities. Parkland hospital is exempt from the city policy because it is administered by the county.

A nondiscrimination policy adopted by county commissioners last year applies only to employment by Dallas County.