Monday, December 19, 2011

Macy's, Bigots and Liberty Counsel

I've been a little reluctant to weigh in on the nonsense over the firing of Natalie Johnson from Macy's for denying a transgender woman access to the lady's fitting rooms.

On one hand, it appears to be fairly cut and dried.  Macy's has a policy, and the employee in question refused to comply with corporate policy. 

However, there's a few things that I want to address about the story, especially since Liberty Counsel has picked this up and is busy trying to make as much noise about the subject as possible.

First, let's take a look at Natalie Johnson's statements in media interviews:

“There are no transgenders in the world. A guy can dress up as a woman all he wants. That’s still not going to make you a woman,” Johnson said. “If you’re a man going into the women’s fitting room, I will kindly escort you to the men’s fitting room.”
Excuse me?  There are no transgender people in the world?  Right.  Got it.  The world is flat too, right?  I knew that religion was and excuse to be blind to the realities of the world before, but it's pretty damned offensive when someone basically claims that their religion obliges them to claim that entire groups of people don't actually exist.

Ironically, over a Lifesite, the article there has the detail that clarifies Macy's position quite nicely:

Johnson retorted that Macy’s doesn’t discriminate against religious beliefs, adding that it would go against her religious beliefs to act on a lie that a man was a woman.

“I couldn’t lie and say that he was a woman. I’m going to be accountable to what I say to my Lord Jesus,” said Johnson, a member of Tabernacle of Prayer, to My San Antonio.

Johnson says she believes that she was acting for the good of her female customers who she thought might be uncomfortable about having a man in their fitting room.

The group demanded to see the manager, who, siding with the transgendered person, pointed Johnson to Macy’s LGBT policy, which allows transgender persons to change in any dressing room of their choice.

The manager gave Johnson an ultimatum: comply with the LGBT policies or lose her job.

Johnson replied that the policy was against her sincerely held religious convictions. She was fired the next day.

Now, let's be clear about how this is NOT a matter of transgender rights conflicting with religious rights.

The transgender person was trying to use the changing room appropriate to her presentation at that time.  Fitting rooms are not locker rooms where people are walking around fully naked.  Fitting rooms are usually small individual cubicles, and you would never see the person in the other changing room while they are in mid-change.  The transgender person in this circumstance is appropriately using the changing room consistent with their presentation, and in no way is presenting any kind of threat to the other people in the facility.  (Not unless you believe that anyone with a penis is automatically a slavering sexual predator unable to control themselves) 

At no time has the transgender woman in question asked anyone to believe anything differently, nor have they demanded that someone who is religious to alter their life or limit their lives in any way.  In fact, the transgender woman is simply trying to get on with her life in as normal a fashion as is possible.

Conversely, Natalie Johnson chose to impose her apparently religiously rooted beliefs upon the transgender woman by insisting that using the women's fitting room was inappropriate.  Again, this comes along and runs smack into the brick wall of who is imposing what upon whom?  Ms. Johnson's insistence that the transgender woman use the men's fitting room was essentially demanding that the transgender woman not only reveal her transgender status to all around (simply by entering the changing room that is inconsistent with her presentation and appearance), but in doing so put herself in considerable jeopardy (I'll come back to this point). 

Further, Ms. Johnson is imposing her beliefs upon someone who clearly does not share them.  Last I checked, a fundamental principle of individual rights is that they do not extend beyond the individual exercising them.  In other words, Ms. Johnson is completely free to believe that there is no such thing as a transgender person based on her understanding of the Bible (or the Necronomicon if that's what she believes in) all she likes.  However, that doesn't grant her the privilege to demand that others live by the credo expressed in that book, which is essentially what she did - in direct contravention of her employer's stated policies.

Returning briefly to an earlier point I raised, one might ask how entering the men's fitting room places a transgender person presenting as a woman in jeopardy?  There are many reasons this is potentially problematic.  First of all, as soon as she enters the men's fitting room, she is declaring to the world that she is a transgender person - whether or not they had recognized that she is transgender previously.  For many transgender people, this increases the chances of experiencing violent reprisals from others who do not understand transsexuals and consider them a threat, or for that matter just decide that it would be fun to beat up someone who they consider a social aberration.  (Anyone else remember the days when it was thought that raping a lesbian would somehow make her straight?)

Kudos to Macy's for actually having a policy about transgender shoppers, and to their management for taking steps to ensure that the policy is meaningful.