For most people, using a public restroom is simple. But for transgender people, it’s often a dangerous and degrading activity. Transgender people can face anything from awkward stares to full-on physical attacks from prejudiced people in the restroom. Given the difficulties transgender people face in choosing a restroom, it’s especially important that they can use the restroom where they are most comfortable.
A transgender woman in Auburn, Maine was banned from using the women’s restroom at Denny’s and is now suing Denny’s. Brianna Freeman doesn’t want monetary compensation, however; she’s suing just for the right to use the women’s room.
Freeman lives and dresses as a woman, sees a counselor three times a month, and takes daily hormone treatments. She has not yet had gender reassignment surgery, but she lives as a woman. Freeman used the women’s room at Denny’s for up to a year before the restaurant manager asked her to stop in October 2007.
Freeman feels that using the men’s restroom would be dangerous for her. “I would feel too vulnerable and very much at physical risk of being attacked by any of the male patrons,” Freeman says. “I’m not willing to take that chance.”
But Denny’s management is less concerned with Freeman’s safety.
The attorney that represents Denny’s, Patrick Mellor, said that Freeman using the women’s restroom would threaten the safety of Denny’s patrons. He suggested that putting in place a policy that allows Freeman to use the women’s restroom would allow someone with inappropriate motives to abuse the policy and put women at risk.
Mellor stated, “It’s our position that Denny’s took the appropriate step and asked the plaintiff, whose legal name is Bruce Freeman and who was described as the sex of male at birth, to use the men’s restroom. That’s not a discriminatory action.”
Wrong, Mellor, it is discriminatory. Freeman is a woman regardless of her birth sex or legal name. Denny’s, by saying otherwise, is imposing standards related to gender on someone else, not allowing others to determine their own gender identity. And they are valuing the safety of cisgender women above the safety of Freeman, simply because she is transgender. Denny’s decision to ban Freeman from the women’s room shows a lack of concern for her safety and well-being as a loyal patron.
Maine law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Given the law, it seems obvious that Denny’s is in the wrong for discriminating against Freeman.
But until the case is resolved, push Denny’s to make a strong corporate statement respecting gender identity among its patrons. Denny’s has on its Web site a commitment to diversity. But they’re falling short on this commitment by telling transgender patrons that they can’t use the restroom. Send Denny’s a message now.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons