Main | Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Did A National Gym Owners Association Help Kill Trans Rights In New York?

Yesterday New York state's long-pending transgender rights bill, GENDA, died in the state Senate Judiciary Committee, one vote shy of passage. Many are blaming GENDA's failure on the bill's lone dissenting Democrat, the notorious Bronx homophobe Sen. Ruben Diaz.

But today we learned that the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), a national gym owners consortium with hundreds of affiliate health clubs in New York, had lobbied against the bill, citing the worn-out complaints about men dressed as women in their locker rooms. IHRSA's objections were airing during the Senate hearing. Via Duncan Osbourne's Herd & Scene:
The association represents over 9,000 health clubs and 650 suppliers nationally with 285 member clubs in New York. It submitted testimony saying “while IHRSA unquestionably supports any legislation that guarantees equal protection for all citizens...we cannot support this legislation in its present form. We request that any legislation intending to protect the liberties of individuals, regardless of their gender identity or expression, be constructed in such a way that it does not encroach on the privacy rights of other citizens.” The issue? Bathrooms and locker rooms. The legislation would “prohibit a health club from preventing a health club user access to any locker room as long as their ‘expressed’ or ‘perceived’ gender identity is consistent with the sex to which the locker room is assigned,” the association asserted. The association wanted “the bathrooms or locker rooms of a health club, or a place of exercise established for the exclusive use of individuals of the same sex” exempted from the bill’s provision.

The problem with such an exemption is that it forever bans transgender people from these places which appears to violate the spirit if not the letter of non-discrimination laws. At first blush, the association’s stance would seem to be irrelevant as Republicans were probably going to oppose this bill in any case. What the association’s testimony did do was give opponents cover at the June 8 committee meeting. “One of the main arguments against this bill seems to be the issue of access, unfettered access to bathrooms, locker rooms,” said Senator George Winner, a Republican who represents four western New York counties, as he brandished the association’s testimony. “Is that a valid objection or valid point?”
Osbourne points out that IHRSA has lobbied similarly in Massachusetts, which is also considering adding transgender protections. IHRSA says they don't approve of discrimination in any form, but they want their locker rooms and "any place created for the exclusive use of individuals of the same sex" exempted from any trans rights bill.

Read Duncan Osbourne's full report.

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