Political Beat

Changing genders, changing clothes, changing times

Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes indirectly gave State Rep. Liz Pike a polite but firm smackdown when she recently expressed her outrage over a transgender woman using the women’s locker room at a city-owned community center.

After receiving an email from a concerned Camas resident, Pike (R-Camas) emailed Vancouver City Councilor Alishia Topper on Nov. 16 to “find out what can be done about this.”

The resident said she had learned that Marshall Community Center allowed a man who identifies as a woman to “shower, dress and expose himself” in the women’s locker room.

In her Nov. 11 email, the woman wrote to Pike, “We regularly hear reports of men, who are either wanted, or arrested for exposing themselves to young girls or women. It is a crime. However, we are now not only allowing this same thing to happen, but facilitating it, with laws that ‘protect’ the rights of a transgender man. … Somehow, it is not only legal, but protected in our state! Please consider the rights of young girls, of women when looking at these laws.”

Pike forwarded the email to Topper, saying, “I am just as outraged by this as you.”

In an email to Topper and three city staff members, Holmes noted that state law prohibits public agencies from discriminating against people who identify with a gender different from the sex the person was born with.

Holmes went on to say that the city’s older facilities lack family locker rooms that would better accommodate transgender people, “so we have attempted to manage with what we do have.”

City staff have been trained on the law. If they become aware of a situation like this, Holmes said, “They have been instructed to politely approach the person to inquire about their situation. If the person is identifying with the gender appropriate to that locker room or bathroom and not engaged in any other behavior that is inappropriate, we will support their use of the facilities.”

The city has navigated the issue successfully many times, “though it can admittedly be difficult,” Holmes said.

The city is looking at all its public facilities to see what improvements are needed to accommodate current and future demands for transgender and other populations, he said. In the meantime, the city is looking at ways to improve accommodations for all users without major investment, he said.

Kudos to Holmes for his measured, level-headed and sensitive response. It’s encouraging to learn that city staff are trained to deal with such situations with consideration and respect in an age when gender fluidity is becoming more and more visible due to increased awareness  — and acceptance.

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