FTM Restroom Situation Underscores Need for Education and Tolerance
While reports of controversy over transgendered restroom rights often involve male-to-female transsexuals, female-to-male transsexual restroom problems may prove even harder to solve. A recent situation in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley is a typical example.
Last month, Victaulic Company of America, a worldwide developer and manufacturer of pipe, coupling, and fire protection products, advised James Halleman that he may not use the men's locker and washing facilities until he physically resembles a biological male in all respects.
Halleman, a 36 year-old laborer, has worked for the company since 1999 at its Alburtis facility, near Allentown, PA. From all outward signs -- the voice, the appearance, the mannerisms and male exuberance -- James Halleman is a typical male steelworker. Despite having been on a male hormone regimen for about 15 months, and having advised his Human Relations Director of his transition to male over a year ago, Halleman was been asked not to use the men's facilities. The company also revealed that the local union had recommended denial of Halleman's request.
In a March 8, 2002 written response to Marta Ames, Executive Director of Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO GLBT Diversity organization, Victaulic stated that the union of which Halleman is a member, United Steelworkers of America Local 2599-27 "? made clear to Victaulic] that they would not be comfortable permitting male bargaining unit employees to share locker and washing facilities with James Halleman until such time as James physically resembled a male."
"Accordingly," the letter continues, "Victaulic and Local 2599-27 concluded it would be in the best interests of all represented employees to continue to ask James Halleman to use the facilities reserved for women until such time as James fully resembled a male?"
Halleman has not yet undergone sex reassignment surgery or changed his name legally, but he has plans to do both. Although the question of genital surgery is as yet unresolved, he says, "I do not want to be forced to use the female locker rooms and bathrooms." He goes on to note that neither the men nor the women want him to use their facilities.
Sex reassignment procedures vary greatly between male and female surgeries. In addition to hysterectomy and chest surgery, procedures for corrective sexual surgery on female-to-male transsexuals are more numerous, invasive, and have an inherently higher risk factor for complications. With costs on the genital procedure alone beginning at $25,000 and running as high as $100,000 for a result that is not fully functional, most female-to-male transsexuals choose to opt out of having that surgery.
Despite offers from several organizations, including the HRC, NGLTF, and PFLAG, to provide transgender education support, the company and the union arrived at their own joint decision to deny Halleman locker and bathroom rights in his target gender.
Halleman felt that neither his union nor his employer was providing him any support beyond the use of his male name, albeit, he says, with female pronouns. He was concerned that there might be a hostile workplace environment. "I was warned," he said, "that once I enter the [men's] locker room, the trouble would begin. What that is, I do not know." Nor was he looking to find out.
However, Halleman remained persistent and optimistic with satisfactory results.
Recently, Halleman won an important concession from Victaulic with the support of his union. In a 4th of April decision, both the company and the union agreed that he will no longer he be required to use the women's room. In a partial victory for Halleman, the company has agreed to provide him access to a unisex restroom. According to Marta Ames, a calm and consistent Halleman rebutted the company position that he must use the women's facilities until he fully resembled a biological male. Eventually, the company's Human Resources Director acquiesced to the proposal for a unisex facility.
The company fully agreed to adopt zero-tolerance of harassment, and recognized the need for further education on the issue of transgenders in the workplace. Following the difficult but successful meeting, Halleman stated, "This proposal allowed everyone in the negotiation to retain their [sic] dignity. For now, it's a win-win situation. And I'm going to continue to educate the company on behalf of all [transgendered] and lesbian, gay and bisexual workers."
Education and fruitful negotiations were key to Halleman's success at Victaulic. "I really don't feel transpeople should have to move elsewhere to have an acceptable quality of life [that] many people take for granted," he said. "My intention [is] that the next transperson have it easier, and [be] dealt with more fairly than I have."
This case hasn't reached the courts. Perhaps, now, it won't have to. The company and the union have made progress in understanding and acceptance. It remains to be seen what will transpire when the company is presented with such documentation as a male driver's license, a male passport, or a surgeon's letter stating that Halleman has undergone female-to-male sex reassignment surgery.
The immediate question, though -- where does James Halleman turn when nature calls? -- has been answered in a spirit of compromise.