City Rethinks Transgender Policy

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 27, 2005 | Go to article overview

City Rethinks Transgender Policy


Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

Dropped three years ago, an effort to extend Eugene's civil rights protections to transgendered people is expected to resurface in the coming weeks, with City Council debate set for the spring.

Advocates on the city's Human Rights Commission have a new strategy compared to 2002, when a similar proposal drew a threatened mayoral veto and caused them to retreat. And unlike before, advocates have a like-minded person in the mayor's chair.

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

Piercy, in consultation with City Manager Dennis Taylor, agreed to put the topic on the City Council agenda for May.

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; and transvestites, or cross-dressers.

Extending the city's civil rights protections to transgendered people could have symbolic and real effects.

It would establish an anti-bias standard and give transgendered people a legal leg to stand on if they encounter discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

But, as in the clash three years ago, a push for transgender rights could raise concerns among residents uncomfortable with extending such protections, and business owners uncertain about how the law would affect them.

Some religious groups are among the opponents.

The proposal "will raise a tremendous amount of response from the citizens" who would view it as "not about equal rights for everyone, but about the invasions of my private space and the natural roles that we all have been given," said Mike Jaskilka, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Eugene.

During the City Council's 2002 debate on whether to create a domestic partner registry for gay couples, Human Rights Commission members tried to add "gender identity" to the list of protected classes. That meant transgendered people would have been covered under the city's anti-discrimination laws.

Then-Mayor Jim Torrey threatened to veto the proposals, including the domestic partner registry, if transgender protections remained. Councilors ultimately dropped the transgender language but approved the domestic partner registry. Councilor David Kelly and human rights commissioners vowed to keep the issue alive.

The restroom issue

To avoid similar opposition this year, human rights commissioners are launching an outreach effort before the City Council takes up the issue.

Commissioners will meet with city councilors, business owners, church leaders and anyone else who wants to learn about the yet-to-be-developed code change. After the language is written in the next several weeks, the commission plans to have a pair of community forums on the topic: one in mid-March and another before the City Council public hearing.

"There is a lot of fear in our community about anybody that is different, whether it's race, what they look like, sexual orientation, or their gender," said Sara Rich, human rights commission chairperson. "By doing these education pieces, it dispels the myths" about transgendered people, she said. …

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