In September a transgender student at the Evergreen State College, Colleen Francis - born a male, but living as a woman since 2009 - was using the sauna in the women's locker room at the college's recreation center when members of a high school swimming team - who use Evergreen's pool for practices - became alarmed by the sight of Francis using facilities designated for females.
In the aftermath, Evergreen installed screens in the locker rooms to increase privacy for all users, but that hasn't been enough to alleviate the concerns of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based religious organization that wrote a letter to the school last week decrying its locker room policy regarding transgender students.
Evergreen officials say the school's policy of allowing transgender individuals access to locker rooms based on their stated gender - in this case, Francis identifies as a female - is in accordance with state law that prohibits state agencies from discrimination based on gender expression or identity (specifically, RCW 49.60.040). Despite this stance, the Alliance Defending Freedom is mad as hell.
"Little girls should not be exposed to naked men, period. A college's notions about 'non-discrimination' don't change that," says Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker in a press release distributed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which says it is acting on behalf of parents concerned for their children's safety.
The September drama involving Francis and members of the youth swim team came to the attention of campus police, who logged a police report noting that a 17-year-old Capital High School student "became upset" when she saw Francis' male genitalia in the locker room sauna. The police report says that a female coach of another youth swim team that utilizes Evergreen's pool facilities, Tiffany Wright, expressed concerns that girls ranging in age from six to 18 use Evergreen's locker room, and "were note use to" encountering transgender people with male genitalia in the sauna.
Campus police notified the Thurston County Prosecutor's Office of the situation, though no charges have been filed related to the incident - one of many things Hacker and the Alliance Defending Freedom takes serious issue with.
"The idea that the college and the local district attorney will not act to protect young girls is appalling," Hacker continues in the Alliance Defending Freedom press release. "What Americans are seeing here is the poisoned fruit of so-called 'non-discrimination' laws and policies. Placing this man's proclivities ahead of protecting little girls is beyond unacceptable."
While Evergreen installed privacy screens after the dustup to try to alleviate the problem, Jason Wettstein, the college's media and community relations manager, says the matter comes down to protecting the civil rights of everyone.
"In accordance with state law, the college cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity, and so transgender individuals are afforded access to the facility based on their stated gender identity," says Wettstein. "The essence of it is we're obeying state law, and trying to accommodate the privacy needs of multiple users, and trying to ensure that we respect people's civil rights."
Evergreen's policy regarding transgender use of its locker room is not a new one, though Wettstein's say it's the first significant issue that has arisen from it that he can recall.
"We have a long-term policy of working to balance the needs of a lot of folks, and try to create opportunities for everyone to use the facility that's most appropriate to them," says Wettstein. "There's a discrimination law, and one of the things that's in that is you can't discriminate on basis of gender identity, and so we won't."
All the way from Arizona, the Alliance Defending Freedom is having none of it.
"Clearly, allowing a person who is biologically a man to undress and expose himself to young girls places those girls at risk for emotional distress and harm," the organization's letter to Evergreen reads. "Any reasonable person would view this as dangerous to the young girls involved. The fact that this individual was sitting in plain view of young girls changing into their swimsuits puts you and Evergreen on notice of possible future harm. Moreover, Evergreen's recent installation of curtains...does not solve the problem. Evergreen continues to allow Francis, and apparently any man who claims to be a woman, to use its women's locker room and expose himself to minors without restraint. The parents who contacted us are concerned for the safety of their children."
If the question comes down to bowing to the Alliance Defending Freedom and the organization's claims of "emotional distress and harm" being inflicted on youth swimmers encountering transgender genitalia in the sauna, or protecting the civil rights of people like Colleen Francis, the Evergreen State College, predictably, sides with the civil rights and state law.
"Frankly, the issue has been addressed," Wettstein says of the installation of privacy screens.
"We really worked to try to find balance here. Again, we have to obey the law," he continues. "From our perspective the issue has been dealt with. It's really has only gained additional interest through the actions of this one individual and this one outside-the-state agency."