By Merriell Moyer, firstname.lastname@example.org 3:10 p.m. EDT June 11, 2016
Despite the Department of Education’s recent decision to allow transgender students to use the restroom for the sex they identify with, many local entertainment venues have yet to implement policies with transgender people in mind.
The few local venues that do have a policy in place are those operated by Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, 27 W. Chocolate Ave., Hershey, such as Hershey park, Hershey Gardens and Zoo America.
“Our long-standing practice of not requiring guests to verify their gender before using the restrooms in our park is not new,” Reilly Fies, communications specialist for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, said via email. “The same inclusion practices and safety procedures that have been in place in years past continue to be in place, and are not different from what our guests have long experienced in our Park.”
Spokespersons from a few other entertainment outlets who would not go on record said that they haven’t had any incidents with a transgender person in their restrooms – that they were aware of – so they didn’t feel the need to have a specific policy for that.
Other local entertainment outlets were not willing to discuss their policies, or lack of policies, but one declared that they are waiting on the state to act.
“Right now we don’t have an opinion to issue,” Candace Smith, director of sales and communication for Lancaster County’s Mount Hope Winery and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, said. “We, as a company, are waiting on a decision from the state on this matter.”
Governor Tom Wolf signed non-discrimination executive orders in April in an effort to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the executive branch of the state’s government, and has said he “is committed to working with the legislature to pass a statewide non-discrimination bill that protects all Pennsylvanians, and encourages federal legislators to continue enacting measures to protect fundamental human rights,” according to a statement issued by the Office of the Governor on the state’s website, pa.gov.
The Sexual Assault Resource and Counseling Center (SARCC) of Lebanon County supports Governor Wolf’s efforts toward anti-discrimination legislation, according to SARCC’s executive director, Jennifer Murphy-Shifflet.
“SARCC feels strongly that we have a responsibility to give accurate information on sexual assault, and I will say that transgender bathroom use is not something to worry about,” Murphy-Shifflet said. “The worry should be about protecting the rights of those who need protection.”
Sexual assault because of a transgender person’s right to use the bathroom for the sex they identify with is not the problem, according to Murphy-Shifflet.
“Sexual violence in public places by strangers does happen, but not very often,” she explained.
Policies created by businesses independent of the state to help protect those rights is immensely helpful in that regard, she said, and she feels Hershey Entertainment and Resorts made a good decision.
“Kudos to Hershey for recognizing that everyone has the right to use their facilities and have a good time at the park,” she said.
The issue is not about sexual violence in restrooms, according to Murphy-Shifflet.
“This is clearly a civil rights issue, and not a sexual assault issue,” she said. “Our statistics show that.”
Those statistics come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Murphy-Shifflet said.
The CDC statistics support that statement, saying that “44 percent of lesbian women, 61 percent of bisexual women and 35 percent of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime,” and “26 percent of gay men, 37 percent of bisexual men and 29 percent of heterosexual men experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.”
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted in 2011 by Jaime Grant, Lisa Mottet and Justin Tanis also supports that transgender people are likely to be targets of verbal abuse or physical violence in venues that do not have policies in place to support their rights.
The study noted that “experiences differ depending on race, income, employment status, gender, transition status, visual non-conformity and whether the respondent had ID documents consistent with his or her gender identity/expression.”
“Over half (53 percent) of respondents reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation,” and “8 percent of respondents reported being physically attacked or assaulted in places of public accommodation,” the study said.
Murphy-Shifflet said she has seen the result of such violence.
“I have been in this line of work for 36 years now working with victims of sexual assault,” she said. “When I worked with transgender people in another county who were abused physically, mentally and emotionally – it terrifies me that people can take rights away from people and hurt them further. There is such anger in that abuse.”
Murphy-Shifflet recommended reading Forge’s Forge Forward Talking Points for thoughts on restroom safety for people of any sexual orientation, and for more information on transgender people and public restrooms.
Forge, a progressive organization whose mission is to support, educate and advocate for the rights and lives of transgender individuals and their families, is dedicated to helping move fragmented communities beyond identity politics and forge a movement that embraces and empowers our diverse complexities, according to their website.
According to Forge, “Everyone should feel safe in bathrooms. If you find yourself in a bathroom with someone who for some reason makes you feel unsafe, leave.”
They go on to say that individuals who feel uncomfortable can wait to re-enter the restroom when the person leaves, go into the restroom when someone else is available to go in with them or find another restroom to use.
Forge closes out its section on bathroom safety saying, “If you feel uncomfortable sharing a restroom with someone because they don’t look like what you think a woman or man should look like, ask yourself: do they appear to be engaging in the type of hygienic or cosmetic behavior restrooms are designed for? If they are, chances are very good they are where they belong and you can both safely take care of business,”
More information and statistics on this subject can be found athttps://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/specialreports.html,http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf andhttps://forge-forward.org/.