A man who is in the process of becoming a woman walks into a convenience store.
“She” wants to use the women’s bathroom. The convenience store clerk says no. “He” must use the men’s bathroom, the clerk says.
Can the convenience store be cited for gender discrimination?
That’s the type of question city leaders are trying to answer as they ponder whether to approve a new city ordinance that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender identity.
Members of the city’s Human Relations Commission said Thursday that they need more time to think over such questions. The group agreed to hold a study session and community dialogue on the subject at 10 a.m. Aug. 29 at City Hall.
“We need to understand what we really are trying to provide protection from,” said Kirsten Krug, a member of the Human Relations Commission.
The ordinance would provide legal protection from discrimination in matters of housing, employment and public accommodations. The new ordinance would protect people who are transgendered, which can include transsexuals, cross-dressers and others who identify with a gender different than their birth gender.
Members of the city advisory board were told that transgendered individuals do fear discrimination in the city. Jay Pryor, who has transitioned from a woman to a man, told commissioners that he had to go to three different doctors in Lawrence before finding one that would treat him.
“They told me that they would prefer not to treat me,” Pryor said.
That real-life scenario also created questions for some commissioners about how a new law would apply. Would the doctors be guilty of discrimination, or do they have a right to refuse treatment because they don’t believe they have the expertise to treat people who have had such specialized procedures?
Ultimately, the decision of whether to pass the new ordinance will be up to city commissioners, but the Human Relations Commission has been asked to provide city commissioners with a recommendation. The earliest the City Commission likely will receive the issue is in November.
The Aug. 29 meeting, which the public is encouraged to attend and discuss the issues, was scheduled after several Human Relations commissioners said they were supportive of the broad goal of the ordinance but wanted more details about specific pieces of the issue.
“So much of this was something that was beyond my knowledge,” said Lori Tapahonso, chair of the commission. “If we don’t understand who we really are supporting here, I think we will have done an injustice.”