June July 2016
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Michigan's Planet Fitness 'Controversy' Echoes National Debate on Trans Access

Michigan's Planet Fitness 'Controversy' Echoes National Debate on Trans Access

Planet Fitness proudly proclaims that its gyms and locker rooms are "judgment free" zones — and it's become clear that the phrase isn't just lip service.

This month, a Midland, Mich., location revoked the membership of Yvette Cormier, a cisgender (nontrans) woman who had repeatedly complained to Planet Fitness employees about sharing the locker room with a trans woman, reports the New Civil Rights Movement.

After the story gained national attention Monday, the trans woman in question, Carlotta Sklodowska, came forward to Michigan news site MLive to make it clear that she was in the locker room to hang up her coat and purse while accompanying a friend, rather than threaten anyone.

"I'm not actually a member," Sklodowska explained to the site. "I was there as a guest of one of my friends." She added that she asked staff their policy towards transgender members, and was told, "you use the locker room that corresponds with how you are dressed." Sklodowska entered the women's locker room twice — once to hang up her belongings and once to retrieve them — and says she didn't even know someone had complained about her presence until friends told her that a news story was circulating about a woman's membership being revoked.

Cormier, 48, lodged her first complaint February 28, when she approached the front desk at her local Planet Fitness in Midland after she saw someone who she said "looked like a man" in the women's locker room, she told CNN. When staff informed her of the company's policy that all members can use the facilities associated with their "sincere, self-reported gender," Cormier called Planet Fitness's corporate headquarters, complaining that she should have been notified of this policy when she opened her membership.

After Planet Fitness headquarters explained the same nondiscrimination policy to Cormier, she decided to take matters into her own hands: she returned to the gym for four consecutive days to to "warn" female gym-goers that, "just so you know, there's a man [sic] they allow in this locker room and they don't tell you that when you sign up," Cormier told CNN. 

After four days of this behavior — which Planet Fitness deemed "inappropriate and disruptive to other members, [in] violation of the membership agreement" — Cormier was told she no longer had access to the gym. "Planet Fitness is committed to creating a non-intimidated, welcoming environment for our members," Planet Fitness's public relations director McCall Gosselin said in a statement, explaining that Cormier's access was rescinded not because she gave staff feedback, but because of the manner in which she did so.

Cormier maintains that she acted out of concern for her own safety and that of other cisgender women and children, telling MLive, "I feel [the policy is] kind of one-sided. I feel like I am the one who is being punished." She added to CNN, "I didn't go out to specifically bash a transgender person that day. I was taken aback by the situation. This is about me and how I felt unsafe. I should feel safe in there."

Cormier's words echo one side of a national debate currently being played out in several states over trans people's use of public facilities and school bathrooms. Legislation has recently emerged in Florida and Texas that seeks to criminalize individuals who use single-sex public restrooms, showers, or dressing rooms that do not accord with their gender assigned at birth with of a misdemeanor, fine, and possible jail time. A proposed Kentucky law that targets trans students using school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity moved forward last month.

Proponents of such laws often argue that trans people, especially trans women, are predatory or threatening. Trans advocates, on the other had, are quick to point out that trans individuals are actually more likely to be verbally or physically attacked in public restrooms than their cisgender peers.

Cormier suggested the gym provide trans members a separate, unisex changing room, notes MLive. But trans advocates have been quick to point out that Sklodowska had a right to be in the women's locker room, and that anyone who wanted more privacy could themselves choose to use the stalls provided by Planet Fitness, rather than segregating trans members.

As for Sklodowska, the unexpected attention has, she says, been a positive thing for her community despite the controversy. "As far as I can tell, I'm the only [trans woman] in Midland," she told MLive, explaining that she came forward to let her town see she's a member of the community. And despite the impression Cormier may give to outsiders of their town, Slodowska adds that she moves around in public with ease. 

"I have loads of friends around town," she shared, noting that she's never once been stopped in a women's restroom before. "They are all straight ladies. We have wonderful times together."

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