Preserving the Distinctly Private and Personal

On November 21, the Howard County Council will take up County Bill 54-2011, which intends to ban discrimination based on “gender identity” in housing, employment law enforcement, financing and public accommodations.  Like many of the bills pushed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and others, the bill defines “gender identity or expression” as “a gender-related identity or appearance of an individual regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

Huh? Does the bill define gender? No – but, of course, say advocates, we all know this means a way of act or presenting yourself that is stereotypically associated with the opposite sex.  Except if you are trans, you do the OPPOSITE stereotype.

Right?  Ugh.

Despite the accusations that I am a big meanie who hates people of trans* experience, in the 2011 General Assembly session,  I strongly supported House Bill 235, which would have banned discrimination in employment and housing based on gender identity, even with its similarly meaningless and over broad definition that solidifies stereotypes about females into law.  This offends me.  This offends many females. Hell, it even offends many males.  Yet, the LGBT Movement continues to advance the idea that there are “ways of being” that accompany your biological sex – or not.  Yey! Progress!

But there’s another issue lurking in the gender identity concept.  All state antidiscrimination laws ban discrimination in public accommodations, but most exempt single-sex accommodations, finding as a matter of public policy that it is rational to discriminate based on sex in certain private settings.  HB 235 did not include public accommodations, and thus sidestepped the issue of allowing non-females in female-only bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, hospital bed assignments, support groups, rape crisis centers, shelters, and other single-sex spaces.

Why are single-sex accommodations important? Why do females in particular need these spaces? Males as a class harm females as a class based on female biology (think rape, sexual violence, and unwanted pregnancy). Now, I don’t think any individual male or women of trans* experience are more likely than not to harm females – but law is about compromise, and it is reasonable to expect some compromise that preserves female safety.

In non-LGBT circles, the rationale for preserving sex-based protections is glaringly obvious.  Males and females are different.  These differences are manifested in our biology.  Males as a class cannot become pregnant; females- as a class – can.  Non-LGBT people get this immediately.  “Yes,” females say, “of course I don’t want to shower in a single-sex locker room with a bepenised person.”  But in LGBT land, particularly the G and the T, this is a harder sell.  Many females, including me, have been denounced as bigots for daring to suggest that having a penis doesn’t make you a female or entitled to penetrate female-only space.

Enter Gender Rights Maryland, which apparently has taken the lead on the Howard County bill. GRMD has signaled that it will work to enact a comprehensive statewide gender identity bill that includes public accommodations.  If the Howard County bill provides any kind of roadmap to what will happen at the state level, it bears examination.

Interestingly, the county bill also sidesteps single-sex accommodations.  Specifically, the bill provides that “discrimination (in employment) does not include providing facilities to employees that are distinctly personal or private in nature.”  The bill further states, “Public accommodations does not include accommodations that are distinctly private or personal in nature.”

Huh!  Interesting! Some things are distinctly private or personal! Like, say, my body!

The county bill suggests that although no one wants people of trans* experience to face irrational discrimination; it is sometimes rational to discriminate because of sex.  That is, some facilities or accommodations are “distinctly private or personal” in nature and should fall outside of the ambit of anti-discrimination protections.

Like the county bill, Maryland law currently permits single-sex accommodations.  Specifically, the Maryland Human Relations Title does not apply, with respect to sex discrimination, to a facility that is (i) uniquely private and personal in nature; and (ii) designed to accommodate only a particular sex.  A key issue in 2012 for females is to ensure that this exception is preserved in a comprehensive gender identity bill – unless, of course, you have thoroughly consumed the LGBT Kool Aid and find it tasty.

Both the state law and the county bill protect sex-segregated space rather inelegantly.  What does “distinctly private or personal” mean? Sure, I think I know, but laws should be clear – and these laws are not.  Say what you mean, elected officials. I know it’s hard, because the T of the LGBT community has some extremely vocal – and, dare I say, violent – members, but fear not – most of us recognize that you cannot achieve equality for one group by gutting protections for 50% of the population.

Friday, 18 November 2011

One comment

  1. […] is, the law allows businesses like a spa to establish a boundary based on sex for facilities “distinctly private” in […]

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