ACLU Director Quits, Says Trans Rights Threaten Women’s Safety

maya dillard smith

Maya Dillard Smith, the interim director of the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, has resigned from her position because she does not support the organization's fight for the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Smith reportedly said the ACLU is advocating for trans rights at the expense of safety for women and children. In a statement to Atlanta Progressive News, the former director called the ACLU a special interest organization that "promotes not all, but certain progressive rights. In that way, it is a special interest organization not unlike the conservative right, which creates a hierarchy of rights based on who is funding the organization's lobbying activites."

The ACLU of North Carolina,  Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina are suing the state of North Carolina in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina because of the anti-LGBT law the state passed in March. In a joint statement, the organizations said House Bill 2 "jeopardizes the more than $4.5 billion in federal funding that North Carolina receives" for public education. They filed the lawsuit "on behalf of several organizations and individuals who will be harmed by the law," wrote the three groups in a statement March 27.

HB 2 prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity, if those are located in government buildings, including public schools and university campuses. The law, introduced and signed into law in less than 12 hours during a special legislative session March 23, also rescinds all existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, prohibits new ones, bars residents from suing for discrimination in state court, and bars cities from setting a minimum wage higher than the state's.

Smith claimed that transgender rights have "intersectionality with other competing rights, particularly the implications for women's rights." She said that when her young daughters shared a bathroom with transgender women, it made her worry the children would be harmed. “I have shared my personal experience of having taken my elementary school age daughters into a women’s restroom when shortly after three transgender young adults over six feet with deep voices entered,” she wrote in the statement.

She went on to say that her "children were visibly frightened, concerned about their safety and left asking lots of questions for which I, like many parents, was ill-prepared to answer."

The former Georgia ACLU director said she believes that there must be a "solution" that balances the needs of women and transgender people in public accomodations, as if transgender people cannot be women: “Despite additional learning I still have to do, I believe there are solutions that provide can provide accommodations for transgender people and balance the need to ensure women and girls are safe from those who might have malicious intent." 

In an interview with Atlanta TV station WXIA, Smith argued that cisgender (nontrans) women should not have to share bathrooms with trans women because it could be"traumatic." “If we have all-gender restrooms which will accommodate trans folks, what do we do about women who are the survivors of rape, for whom it would be traumatic to share a public restroom where you take down your underwear, and there’d be men in the bathroom," she said. 

Her statement does not take into consideration that trans people are generally at much greater risk of harassment and violence in sex-segregated spaces than their cisgender peers, and that risk increases markedly when trans people are forced to use restrooms that do not match their gender identity.

Smith argued that the ACLU must not "create a hierarchy of rights," but her statements are contradictory, because if you desire to provide a safe space for both cisgender women and transgender women, then that would mean to allow trans women to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender. Smith seems to not understand that trans women are women, given her statements: “I understood it to be the ACLU’s goal to delicately balance competing rights to ensure that any infringements are narrowly tailored, that they do not create a hierarchy of rights, and that we are mindful of unintended consequences."

“Thus, I found myself principally and philosophically unaligned with the organization,” she added.

Smith has launched a website called Finding Middle Ground that features a video of a young girl talking about "boys in the girls' bathroom." "There's some boys who feel like they're girls on the inside and there's some boys that are just perverts," says the young girl in the ad. A caption appears on the screen after she speaks that reads "How do we keep ourl ittle girls safe and prevent transgender discrimination?"

The video recalls the transgender "bathroom predator" myth that many conservatives such as Ted Cruz like to bring up as an excuse for why transgender people should not be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The video features the question, "How do we prevent predators from preying on kids in bathrooms?"

Despite the video's claims, in the more than 200 localities across the country that allow trans folks to use the bathroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity, there’s never been a single case of a transgender person attacking someone else. There have also been no reports of a cisgender person pretending to be trans to enter the bathroom of the opposite sex. Similarly, law enforcement officials nationwide have rejected the claim that trans-inclusive policies lead to an uptick in harassment of women.

On Wednesday, President Obama spoke at a town hall hosted and live-streamed by PBS's Newshour, saying that schools must "create an environment of some dignity and kindness" for transgender children. 

"We should try to accommodate these kids so that they are not in a vulnerable situation," said Obama, after being asked about transphobic laws that have passed in various states around the country.

Georgia is one of the 11 states suing the Obama administration over its guidance issued May 26 that suggests public schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina May 9 over its discriminatory anti-LGBT law, HB 2.

Watch the ad from Finding Middle Ground below.

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