Store security asked Joseph Martone Jr. to leave SuperTarget Tuesday, while he was outside the entrance protesting the company’s policy that lets people use store bathrooms of the gender with which they identify.
But minutes later, he was able to walk inside the store on North Powers Boulevard and North Carefree Circle as a customer and enter the women’s restroom unchecked.
Wearing a blond wig, a skirt and his salt-and-pepper beard and using his customary walker, the Colorado Springs resident said he was sad to have proved his point.
“It’s not right,” Martone said. “They’re making it easy for someone to spy on a woman or child using the restroom.”
Martone and a few friends joined in solidarity with others around the country who are staging demonstrations in response to Target’s new bathroom policy, which the retail giant said it instituted last month to be more inclusive of customers and employees.
The decision came after North Carolina lawmakers agreed in March to ban people from using restrooms other than what corresponds to their biological sex. This week, the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state, which has filed suits against the federal directive to stop implementation of the controversial legislation.
In recent days, customers in Jackson, Miss., and Layton, Utah, have protested with the same fears as Martone.
“Anyone can dress up like I have today and easily access the women’s bathroom,” he said.
The fears are unfounded, said Mary Malia, executive director of Inside/Out Youth Services, a Colorado Springs nonprofit that serves lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex and questioning youth 13 to 22 years old.
“The bathroom issue is really just about ‘I need to pee,'” Malia said. “But there’s a part of the community and our society that’s decided it has to be more than that.”
Research and police records show that transgender people are not assaulting others in bathrooms, she added.
“Grown men are assaulting boys in bathrooms, but they’re not transgender, they’re pedophiles,” she said. “There’s a real misconception and misunderstanding about transgender.”
Other retailers, including Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Starbucks, have similar non-discrimination bathroom policies for customers and employees, as do public schools in Colorado.
The bathroom issue surfaced in Colorado in 2013, when a transgender first-grader in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 won the right to use the girls’ restroom in a Colorado Rights Division ruling.
That, combined with 2008 state legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, set the scene for public schools, said Patricia Richardson, attorney for Academy School District 20.
“It fits with our district’s mission of providing a safe and nurturing environment for all our learners,” she said.
But it can be a “delicate issue,” Richardson said.
D-20, the region’s second largest school district with about 25,000 students, has transgender students at elementary, middle and high school levels, she said. The district works with the families and students to “see what they feel most comfortable with.”
Some schools provide a gender-neutral restroom, and sometimes students want to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.
Richardson said she isn’t aware of any problems.
“Sometimes there’s a perception there will be problems associated with that, and kids are often the most understanding of all about this,” she said.
Palmer High School held a ribbon cutting ceremony about six weeks ago for a “gender inclusive” restroom it opened at the request of the school’s Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance.
“They brought up issues with students not feeling comfortable using the bathroom they identify with, and students in the bathroom not feeling comfortable with them. It was both sides,” said Principal Lara Disney. “They wanted a way they could use the restroom in peace and not infringe and make others uncomfortable.”
The school made inexpensive tweaks to an old men’s restroom that had been locked up and reopened it with individual stalls and a non-functional urinal.
“We haven’t had any issues since we opened it,” Disney said. “I think it’s been a positive move for our student body. It’s part of the culture at Palmer — the way our student body embraces diversity and differences is what makes Palmer unique.”
Martone said he would like to see more gender-neutral bathrooms in public places, to eliminate the possibility of misuse of new policies at companies such as Target. Some stores do offer “family” restrooms, which can be used by anyone.
Deb Walker, executive director of Citizens Project, said providing individual unisex bathrooms is a matter of equality.
“Conflating transgender people with sexual predators is offensive. In the past, we compared gay people to pedophiles, too,” she said. “Incidentally, I haven’t heard the same level of concern from parents who send their boys or girls alone into restrooms, where pedophiles might be waiting.”
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