Lansing Health Club Bars Transgender Member
[LANSING, MI] - For Naomi Snyder, a simple membership to her local Fitness USA Healthclub, turned into an issue with gender.
On Oct. 27, 2001, Snyder applied and was given a membership at a Fitness USA in Lansing. Snyder provided the required documentation, which shows she is female, to receive a membership. Although Snyder was born a male, she is in the transition process of becoming a female. She said she hopes to have the surgical procedure done by the end of April.
Snyder said she wasn't informed by the manager at the Lansing center that there are designated days that the one facility locker room is either male or female. After discovering the policy, she wanted to file a complaint and was given the number to the center's headquarters in West Bloomfield.
According to Snyder, the corporate office told her she could attend on certain days, but asked her not to use the locker room, showers, pool or sauna.
"In one conversation with Jodi Berry," said Snyder, "I was able to use the center on male designated days, and then I couldn't use the facilities at all."
Snyder said Berry, the administration director of Fitness USA, told her that because she had not gone through the complete procedure, she was "in-between genders" and therefore, couldn't use the facilities.
Snyder's membership was refunded and cancelled on Oct. 31.
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney at ACLU Michigan's GLBT Legal Project, took up the case, drafted a letter to Berry and sent it on Jan. 15. Berry was asked to respond as of Jan. 25.
Berry responded, on Feb. 4, with a short letter stating that there were no separate bathroom facilities in the centers to accommodate Snyder's situation.
"Certainly, there are a number of co-ed facilities in the Lansing area that can easily accommodate your client," said Berry in her letter.
"We can claim sex discrimination regarding public accommodations under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act," said Kaplan.
Kaplan said under the civil rights act, Snyder was treated differently because she did not show conformance to a specific sex, male or female identity.
Under Michigan law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act does not include the categories of gender identity or sexual orientation, nor do federal civil rights law. Michigan law covers sex discrimination in public accommodations but does not define the term "sex," said Kaplan.
"This is the type of thing the transgender community faces," he said.
Kaplan said there aren't very many cases pertaining to this subject in Michigan. Yet, he outlined a number dealing with the different aspects of sexual discrimination in a seven-page letter to Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan and Michael Steinberg, legal director.
He cited one case in Massachusetts in 2000 that took advantage of sex discrimination, called Rosa v. Park West Bank and Trust Co.
A bank customer, born male, but dressed as a female, requested a loan application. The customer was refused the application unless he returned dressed in proper attire. The man brought a federal suit against the bank under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
The Court of Appeals looked to Title VII case law and concluded that by requiring him to conform to sex stereotypes before proceeding with the credit transaction, the bank unlawfully discriminated against him with respect to an aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of sex.
Kaplan said they would have to use the state law regarding public accommodation discrimination to argue Snyder's case.
"As she did not conform to stereotypical notions regarding being a male (physical appearance, clothing) or a female (having the anatomical characteristics of a female) she is being denied public accommodations based on her sex, which Fitness USA has classified as 'in-between genders,'" said Kaplan.