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Series of events which occurred on Monday, 6th October 1997.
On Monday, 6th October 1997, I began working full-time in the Eagan division of West Group, following the Rochester Primary Law Information Group transfer I accepted over the summer. I arrived at 8am.
For the next ninety or so minutes, I took the opportunity to acquaint myself with both the new assigned cubicle and to configure my computer. At 9:30, I was approached by Jim Joseph, the CDS supervisor (I’m unaware of his specific title), about an issue he wanted to talk to me about. I followed him into his office, and as he closed his door, he began to say that something had come up in the department regarding “which bathroom you are to use.”
This comment took me off guard and somewhat winded me, and I had to sit down. I responded by saying, “I’m sorry… what did you say?” He reiterated what he said and added that there were some people in the building who brought up a complaint over my access to women’s washrooms.
Jim immediately followed by saying, “Look, I really don’t have an opinion over where you use the washroom, but this is a concern which has been addressed by a few people in the company.”
Further surprised and still taken aback, I took a moment to gather my thoughts. “This comes as a surprise to me… a big surprise, actually. This is something which I never had to confront before, and for that matter, I do not know anyone personally who has been placed into this position. For one, there should not be any dispute here, as there was none in Rochester,” I replied.
Jim responded by again saying that he had no vested interest in the matter, but that someone in HR did, and we were to go down there to see him immediately. He told me, while walking down to the HR offices, that the man we would be speaking to was named Lewis Freeman. During the walk, I commented that this was entirely out of order and that the matter needed to be clarified.
When we arrived at Lewis’s office, he was closing on a telephone conversation. Once he hung up, he waved both myself and Jim into his office and closed the door. As we all sat down, Lewis made about a minute of small talk with Jim, lightheartedly complaining of a sore shoulder, or something to that extent. It was slightly annoying, considering that this issue was an important one and that taking it to this level was somewhat excessive… at least from my perspective.
Lewis introduced himself by saying that he was the Manager of Employee Services in Human Resources. He continued to explain that he was a legal affairs liaison for the company and a conduit for the employees at West. Then, as he leaned into his chair, he began by relaying much of what Jim had already told me some moments earlier. Lewis elaborated by saying that there were “several people” who had complained to him about my access to women’s washrooms, which still was taking me by surprise, namely because I had *just* gotten into the building and hadn’t used the washroom yet.
Lewis continued, telling myself and Jim that he had spoken to a number of people — which he did not name — and said that they had come to a decision that would address the concerns and rights of all the employees: from this time onward, he said, I was to access only either of two public “unisex” washrooms (both of which are located in the lobbies of the “D” and “C” buildings on the first floor).
Still having not spoken, I stepped up by saying, “First of all — and I did say this to Jim a few moments ago — I have never been questioned over which washroom I am to use, and for that matter, I do not personally know anyone where this issue has occurred with them. I strongly disagree with this action, as there is no legal basis to your decision. I am legally female, and have been recognised as such for a long time. Moreover, while I have not read the Minnesota laws yet, I am to understand that I am protected under its provisions.
“I don’t know what you would want from me. I can provide as much paperwork as you may need to verify my identity. But again, I have never dealt with this issue before, and I can tell you that I’m taken aback by it. I can immediately tell you that exercising your decision is wrong and may be construed as illegal, and again, I do not agree with it.”
Lewis responded by saying he had “carefully reviewed” the matter with other people in HR (again, not naming anyone) and, on balance, had decided this would be best for everyone.
At this point, I did feel like I wasn’t being taken very seriously. I replied, “It seems that your decision was decided upon before I arrived here. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say to you. I thought that I was coming down here to your office to negotiate the matter, but you’re making it evident that negotiation is not an option here.”
I began to suggest alternate ideas which may better address the matter. And so, I formally proposed to him that, for one, since these two “unisex” washrooms were nowhere near where I sat, and that accessing them would require a formidable walk, I suggested a compromise where I would have access to the women’s washroom nearest to the CDS group, which would be about fifteen seconds away from me, as opposed to many minutes.
He immediately said that this was not an option.
“Okay, ” I said, “here is my second suggestion, which I feel may be more positive. I understand that some people may not understand me, and are acting upon the own fear and some prejudice. I am a very tolerant to other people’s intolerance. I have publicly performed on stage and spoken to people who are unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable to the issues of being transgendered. I feel that it may be good to either allow a memo to be given to the people who waged this complaint, educating them on the matter… ” I stopped myself, just as Lewis stopped me. Both of us did not like the way the memo idea was going, so I picked up by saying, “… no, here is a better approach. If it would be okay with these people, including anyone else who may be interested, I would like to take the opportunity to speak with these people individually or in a group, and allow them to address any questions, concerns, fears or misconceptions they have regarding my identity, as a means of bringing tolerance and understanding into this issue.”
As I neared the end of my proposal, Lewis’s head began to shake, and as I finished, he immediately said that this was also not an option. This made me upset, realising that all the suggestions and compromises I was offering were being struck down without giving the least bit of consideration. I objected to Lewis that “you likely know very little about what I’ve gone through to get to this point. There’s a lot of misunderstanding to transsexuality, which evokes bad light (and press) on them, and I’m just trying to offer a chance for people to be better informed and thus less apt to act upon ignorance… “
“Look, ” Lewis interrupted, “I know what steps people like you go through… “
“Oh… you do?” I queried. “Please tell me then. I’d like to hear what you know.”
“First, a transsexual goes through getting paperwork changed, then they begin taking hormones, at which point, they haven’t had surgery yet. Then, they have the operation, which make them legally female,” Lewis tried to explain.
This made me very angry. From what he said, it became painfully clear that he knew very little about the transition a transgendered person has to take, which takes many years to go through. He was off on many measures, and I realised that his only “knowledge” of transition derived from his exposure to the sensationalistic and biased media bits which have always put a negative light on differently-gendered people. So, I proposed to him, “It hurts me to see how little you know about what someone like myself goes through. Moreover, you base your decisions upon your mis-information, which I find disappointing.
“I can tell you, again, that I am legally female. It is not an issue whether or not I have taken surgery. You, nor anyone in this company have any way of knowing what is between my legs, and moreover, it is not any of your business.” Lewis interjected this by claiming this was merely an opinion. I continued, “It’s clear to me that you do not realise that it’s the legality of identity, not the genitals, that makes someone who they are. There are many transsexual people who opt to *not* take surgery, for any of a number of reasons. *That* revelation makes these people no less a woman or man, and I can tell you that I have met many male-to-female, as well as female-to-male transgendered people who were comfortable and recognised as who they are, whether or not they have something between their legs.”
Lewis disregarded this, which persisted to frustrate me. It became evident to me that he was not listening to what I was telling him, or at least *processing* what I was saying to him. Then, Lewis spoke again, saying that, following our meeting, he would get back with the group of people he made this decision with — once more, not naming anyone — and discuss with them the outline of what transpired in this meeting. He forewarned that the decision might not change, but he would at least bring it up with them and call both myself and Jim once they had adjourned. He suspected it would be sometime between thirty minutes and an hour.
The meeting uncomfortably came to a close, with Jim not having said a single word both in the meeting and on the way back to our CDS area.
About an hour later, rather than receiving a call from Lewis, I instead received an e-mail, which cc’ed in Jim Joseph. A small set of correspondences ensued over the next two days, which are delineated in this e-mail transcript. The issue never proactively evolved, and then, Lewis failed to reply to my e-mail.
Series of events which occurred on Tuesday, 7th October 1997.
While the e-mail was still being bounced between myself and Lewis, now with Lewis having cc’ed more people of whom I did not know, I confronted the matter with my project partner, Jennifer Achterling, as well as with my manager, John Elstad. I explained to them what had been taking place, and they responded by saying that they were aware that a confrontation was going to occur. I explained to them the events that had transpired in the meeting as well as the e-mail correspondence and that I felt that my rights were being violated. Moreover, because I questioned the legality of Lewis’s actions, I suggested to them that I might have to take this matter to a legal arbitrator. They both wanted me to know that, while they refrained from any opinion on the matter, I should do what I feel is best for me. I added that, since the incident, I felt seriously unwelcome in the West Group Eagan facility. While the observation was exaggerated perhaps by subjective response, it felt as if I was feeling a sense of hostility from anonymous numbers of people of whom I did not know, littered throughout the campus. Both Jennifer and John tried to reassure me that I *was* welcome by everyone in the CDS group and that the complaints were not from their department. Besides, they, said, I was valuable to their group, and they needed me.
Series of events which occurred on Wednesday, 8th October 1997.
After my response to Lewis’s first response in e-mail, he failed to respond again. I raised some very important questions about safety in my reply, which he did not address. I don’t know the basis of his refusal in this situation, but it feels as if he is evading the issue, which is a matter of whether or not his actions are legal.
I met with Jennifer Achterling privately to show her the full e-mail transcription and allow her to read through it. She checked the message for grammatical errors, of which she noted there were none on my behalf. Once she finished reading, she once again said that “you must do what you feel is best for you,” avoiding an opinion. Because of the nature of this confrontation, I said to her that because I am not recognising his objectionable and illegal demand, I could risk the security of my job, which is something I think both you and John (Elstad) should know. I iterated that I did not want to lose my job here. Her suggestion, following our meeting, was to forward the e-mail to John and let him know what transpired between myself and Lewis in the last couple of days, which I ended up doing.
Following this event, and the initial confrontation, the atmosphere quieted down. I continued to access the washroom in our production area as I normally would, or for that matter, as anyone else might. The issue seemed to fade to irrelevance, people in my group along the way voiced that they thought the attention devoted to the controversy was ridiculous (on behalf of HR), and I felt the hostility diminish, but not disappear, completely. Occasionally, someone in passing would stare at me, either because of my height or because I looked unique, but it’s not anything foreign or new to my experience and really not a big deal.
Six weeks passed without incident.
Series of events which occurred on Wednesday, 19th November 1997.
I’d just returned from a four-day holiday from Texas that morning, and I was exhausted from the twenty-four hour drive.
Around 4:30 p.m., John Elstad and I ran into each other near our cubicles. He seemed slightly hesitant at first, but then he said that Lewis in HR wanted to have a talk with me, and he wanted both John and Jim Joseph to accompany. Infuriated, I replied, “I don’t believe this. It’s seeming way too obvious that this matter is personal to Lewis. I have a bad feeling that this meeting could turn ugly. I don’t want it to, but I fear that he will not even bother listening.”
John just tried to allay that fear by saying, “Let’s just go down there and see what he has to say. He wants us to meet at 4:30, so we should get going.” On our way across, Jim found us and joined in the walk. When we arrived, Lewis had two other people in his office. When Jim tried to signal to Lewis through his window that we were outside, Lewis ignored him. About ten minutes later, once his other party left, he asked us to come in.
Lewis appeared visibly incensed by my presence. He immediately came out saying that he had been told “by others” that I continued to make use of the women’s facilities, a point which I concurred with. He said, “I thought we understood where we were at in our last meeting.”
At this point, I cited that he had never responded to my e-mail, which addressed my refusal to comply and which also insisted a reply on his behalf. He disregarded his refusal to reply, stating that the e-mail didn’t require additional comment. I interjected, stating that, “I asked very serious and valid questions in that last e-mail, which behooved you to respond. Because you did not respond, I understood that as your action to passively stand down.”
Lewis disagreed. He said that, “Because I did not reply does not mean our policy has changed.” He then invoked a threat of action, saying, “But, if you continue to use the women’s washrooms, instead of the previously designated washrooms we laid out in our last meeting, then we will take corrective action against you.”
At this time, it became clear that Lewis had long stopped listening and very possibly never did to begin with, as every observation I addressed to him was fired back with “That is your opinion”, which I would accordingly reply with either, “No this is an observation…” (as in, “my rights are being violated”) or by agreeing that “Yes, this is my opinion.” (as in, “I feel that this is wrong”). I said to him that throughout this entire issue, he had never mentioned anyone else’s name who was involved in the decision. Because he declined to add other parties by name into the decision, I said that he was taking responsibility for the actions. In addition, I continued, this issue was clearly discriminatory, as it treated one individual differently, by restricting access to a necessary space. He said that this was an opinion. Ignoring him, I proceeded, saying that the action legally out of bounds and also one of safety, which was again countered with his objection that it was an opinion.
His method of discourse was very aggressive and callous, and he made a point that he would not listen to my argument or dissension. I successfully maintained composure throughout our confrontation, without raising my voice or turning curt with him (knowing that acting out of context could be held against me at a later time), and I admit, through the hurt and anger (and extreme fatigue of the recent drive), that it was not an easy thing for me to do.
Since he had failed to address the issue of the safety hazards in denying my access to nearby washrooms the in e-mail correspondence, I brought the matter up in person. He responded that he would worry about that when the time came, at which point, I interjected that, “There wouldn’t *be* time in such emergency situations! It’s important that this gets addressed now, because these situations do happen.” Lewis did not respond.
My immediate supervisors did not utter a word in this meeting.
In a point of sympathy, I addressed the three in the room. I was not certain if any of them were aware how this behaviour on behalf of Lewis Freeman was discriminatory and prejudicial. “Have you stopped to consider how you might feel in this situation, if someone told you that you’re suddenly forbidden access to an essential place?”
Lewis stepped up, with stern tone. “Listen, I grew up Black in the South. I know about racism, prejudice, lynchings… “
I was immediately hurt and even disgusted by this. I cut him off: “And yes, I know very well about hate crimes, having been stalked, intolerance, prejudice and phobia all too well. Moreover, I am *not* making this an issue of race. Don’t start.”
I realised that the confrontation was degenerating to his semantics and his refusal to listen to my concerns. After some internal hesitation, and once he finished his thought, I looked at him and closed by saying, “I really wish you had not said what you have in here today.” I stood up and excused myself, leaving the other three behind in his office.
On the way back, the fatigue and hurt started to get to me. I felt very uncomfortable in the space of the entire campus, and I had to get away from it. When I got back to my cubicle, I gathered my items and put on my coat, when to Jennifer Achterling’s surprise, she wondered if I was really leaving so early. I think that the pain in face required very little to say, because just by looking up at her, she seemed to understand.
Another co-worker, Linda Anderson, saw me leaving, when she asked, “Are you okay?” All I could say was, “No,” before I came unglued. I ended up crying on the way to my car and most of drive home.
Series of events which occurred on Thursday, 20th November 1997.
I made a few important decisions. First of all, I needed to seek advice from a legal solicitor. Second, I continued to not recognise his unwritten demand, but with a condition. The only way I could avoid confrontation, while not bending to his threat was to give up eating both breakfast and lunch and cease my normal consumption of 2-3 litres of waters daily, so as to avoid the need to access a washroom facility.
On the 26th, the day prior to Thanksgiving, I mentioned to John Elstad that he never did tell me what transpired in Lewis’s office following my departure. He said that actually very little was said, except that this order of Lewis’s needed to be observed. I suggested to John the value of “sensitivity awareness training”, which would address harassment and discrimination on the workplace. It seemed prudent to get everyone to go to these types of training, including the upper echelons of Human Resources. The issue of transgendered matters would be good to address in this situation, along with the other areas of uncomfortability that are brought up in these meetings. John did not have an opinion, except to say that as a rule in general, those types of training are good for everyone. Then, I told him that I had not been recognising Lewis’s orders, at which point, he frowned. I continued by saying, “However, I also have not been eating or drinking throughout the day, which, while it has kept me from needing to go to a washroom, is starting to take away a lot of my stamina.”
On the morning of Monday, December 1st, I found myself in a serious amount of pain, which was directly attributed to needing to use the washroom. One of my co-workers shook her head at the realisation of my pain was directly due to the discrimination. I tried to hold myself together, but by around 12:45 p.m., I was keeled over in pain. I grabbed my keys and purse and struggled to my car, stopping once along the way over a sharp piercing feeling in my abdomen, and drove to the nearest service station.
By this week, I have been in contact with legal experts, solicitors, HR representatives in Rochester (who still maintain my records), and have been given numbers to workplace rights resources, civil liberties groups and the Human Rights Commission, as well as the company’s main switchboard number in Toronto, Ontario. Also, I researched Minnesota Statues Annotated and looked up the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), which was the statute I had been referring to in correspondence with Lewis Freeman. The MHRA, Chapter 363, under §363.03 Subd. 1 (2)(c), states:
Employment. Except when based on a bona fide occupational qualification, it is an unfair employment practice for an employer, because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, membership or activity in a local commission, disability, sexual orientation[*], or age to discriminate against a person with respect to hiring, tenure, compensation, terms, upgrading, conditions, facilities, or privileges of employment.
[*] §363.01 Subd. 45. Definitions.
Subd. 45. Sexual orientation. “Sexual orientation” means having or being perceived as having an emotional, physical, or sexual attachment to another person without regard to the sex of that person or having or being perceived as having an orientation for such attachment, or having or being perceived as having a self-image or identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological maleness or femaleness. “Sexual orientation” does not include a physical or sexual attachment to children by an adult.
The Minnesota law is stated very clearly, and while I am compelled to take action by informing Lewis Freeman (as well as any and all individuals who sided with his decision) about this law, I have been advised by legal counsel to refrain from taking further action, until my solicitor takes the proper channels of action on my behalf.