‘Disorderly Conduct’ if a Trans Woman Uses a Women’s Bathroom?
Apparently, using a bathroom consistent with your gender identity is an example of “disorderly conduct” for one Texas hospital.
Dallas woman Paula Witherspoon, who has been given medically approved and certified necessary gender transition care since 2006, was given the citation by hospital police after a patient saw her leave the empty bathroom facilities and made a complaint that there was a “man in the women’s restroom.”
“It was definitely humiliating, degrading,” [Witherspoon] said. “I felt like I was being discriminated against.”
“This is 2012, and I’ve been transitioning since 2006, and I’ve never had a problem until I went to Parkland Hospital,” Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon said she doesn’t even remember seeing anyone else in the restroom until she walked out.
“There was a lady there that said, ‘That’s a man.’ I just ignored her and kept going,” Witherspoon said.
Minutes later, a Parkland officer came over and cited her, she said. Witherspoon said she offered to show the officer a transition letter from her doctor that states, “She is expected to use facilities consistent with her external presentation, which is female.”
Hospital police, according to the report, told her they had to go by what is on her driver’s license, and Witherspoon has not yet been able to have that amended.
However, to be charged with disorderly conduct Witherspoon must have been seen to have engaged in behavior that was “intentionally or knowingly for a lewd or unlawful purpose.” This falls short of even the remotest technicality of the law — she didn’t intentionally do anything unlawful and, she claims and no one has yet contradicted this statement, the bathroom was empty and the stalls are floor to ceiling private cubicles so there was absolutely no possibility of “lewd” conduct.
The hospital has said that given the complex nature of this incident, staff are reviewing what happened.
But this situation speaks to the deeply troubling discrimination that trans people face in day to day life. Despite having with her a medical professional’s letter stating her gender reassignment and that as part of her treatment she must be allowed to live her life consistent with her gender identity, Witherspoon was told that this was not enough.
Texas law does recognize gender reassignment, and had Witherspoon had with her “an original or certified copy of a court order relating to the applicant’s name change or sex change” she would have been covered but, as she has not yet completed her gender reassignment she is as yet unable to obtain this official certificate. (It should be pointed out that some judges in Texas have allowed official recognition of gender change prior to reassignment surgery, but coverage is erratic and appears to be down to the discretion of said judges.)
Despite there being no written policy, trans citizens in Texas are also able to change their gender markers on their licenses — if they present a court order relating to their gender change, something again Witherspoon can not yet do.
This begs the question: why should Witherspoon have to carry such papers when she is living her life consistent with her medically recognized gender identity, and has a doctor’s letter to prove it, and has done nothing illegal by using the private stalls in the hospital bathroom that accord with her gender expression?
While 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect citizens on grounds of their gender expression and gender identity, Texas is not one of them. Dallas actually does have a gender identity and expression-inclusive ordinance, but Parkland hospital falls outside that jurisdiction.
Witherspoon’s story highlights the pressing need for nationwide trans-inclusive nondiscrimination legislation that covers public accommodations and facilities so that this kind of dehumanising treatment doesn’t continue.
Fortunately, there are now reports that hospital board members are pushing for a written policy on bathroom use that will be more accommodating to trans patients and hospital visitors’ needs, and also to appoint an LGBT liaison to deal with LGBT issues within the hospital.