Eugene, Ore., primed to revisit transgender issue

BY admin

January 28 2005 1:00 AM ET

A new mayor means Eugene, Ore., will get another look at extending civil rights protections to transgender people.

The issue arose in 2002 when the city council was deciding whether to create a domestic-partner registry for gay couples. Members of the city's Human Rights Commission tried to add "gender identity" to the list of the city's protected classes, but then-mayor Jim Torrey threatened to veto the domestic-partner registry if transgender protections remained.

Councilors ultimately dropped the transgender language but approved the domestic-partner registry.

With Torrey no longer in office, members of the rights commission have found an ally in new mayor Kitty Piercy, who has agreed to put the transgender topic on the council's May agenda.

"I, like the members of the Human Rights Commission, am interested in ensuring that all our citizens are treated equitably and justly," Piercy said. "I am, therefore, open to a discussion about adding gender identity to the list of protected classes."

Transgender describes a range of people with conflicts or questions about their gender. Those include people who are born male but think of themselves as female, or vice versa; people who are preparing for a sex-change operation or have had a sex change. The city estimates that at least 100 transgender people live in Eugene.

Extending the city's civil rights protections would give transgender people a legal leg to stand on if they encounter discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The proposal will face almost certain opposition from religious groups and those concerned about restroom issues.

The 2002 proposal would have required "reasonable accommodations" for transgender people in buildings open to the public. Some residents worried that the law would permit men who feel they are female to use women's restrooms or locker rooms and thereby frighten or victimize women and children. "How do you keep a man out of a women's restroom when he says that he is transgender?" said Mike Jaskilka, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Eugene.

Sara Rich, a family therapist who chairs the Human Rights Commission, said restroom use by transgender people is an "invalid concern." "National research numbers show that transgender people do not victimize women and children," she said. "People say transgender people are pedophiles, but statistics show that most pedophiles are white heterosexual males."

The University of Oregon last fall changed its equal opportunity statement to include gender identity. It is trying to deal with restroom access issues by converting a dozen single-toilet restrooms--previously reserved for either women or men--for use by both sexes. (AP)

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