The cancellation of a Michigan woman’s gym membership at Planet Fitness for repeatedly complaining about “a man” in the women’s locker room has sparked concern among LGBT activists that Michigan could be the next state in the country to introduce an anti-trans bathroom bill.
“I think in Michigan our opponents are apt to do anything they can do to attack us,” Yvonne Siferd, victim services director at Equality Michigan, told msnbc. “That kind of policing would involve a lot of unintended consequences, and while it would appeal to the base, I don’t think it would appeal to a majority of people. But I wouldn’t put it past our legislators.”
Republican lawmakers have introduced so-called “bathroom bills” in Florida, Kentucky, and Texas so far this year, and LGBT activists view them as the next front in the battle for transgender rights. Such legislation would bar the use of sex-segregated facilities, like bathrooms and locker rooms, in conjunction with a person’s gender identity. If transgender people use a facility that does not match the gender they were assigned at birth, they could face fines and jail time under the new laws.
Proponents say the bathroom bills are aimed at promoting privacy and public safety.
“Most parents of, say, a 14-year-old high school daughter would not want a 17-year-old biological male in the same restroom with her,” Kent Ostrander, director of the Family Foundation of Kentucky, told msnbc earlier this year. “That is not an accusation about the individual male; it’s just a matter of privacy. And the right of privacy in America has always been, and is, particularly strong in this generation.”
But LGBT advocates argue that the measures wouldn’t protect cisgender people, or those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth; they would harm transgender people – those who identify with a different gender than the one given at birth. According to a recent study from the Williams Institute, it’s transgender people who experience significant levels of discrimination and harassment when trying to use the bathroom, not – to use Ostrander’s example – teenage cisgender girls.
“This is a real thing for so many trans and gender variant people in our country,” said Siferd. “They don’t feel safe anywhere.”
So why could Michigan be the next state to push a bathroom bill? Last week, a Midland Planet Fitness revoked the gym membership of 48-year-old Yvette Cormier days after she complained that “a man” was using the women’s locker room. The “man” in question was actually a transgender woman, and the gym explained to Cormier that its policy allowed people to use the locker room associated with their gender identities. Cormier, however, continued to complain – not just to management, but to other gym-goers.
“They said, ‘You are talking to people about him in the women’s locker room. You are making people upset.’ That’s my whole point,” Cormier told ABC News. “I’m telling them and warning them because you are not doing that. You allow men in there, and we are appalled by it.”
In a statement, Planet Fitness said it was “committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment” for its members, and said that it was the manner in which Cormier expressed her concerns about the gym’s policies – not the concerns themselves – that led to her being kicked out.
“Our gender identity non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity,” read the statement. “In expressing her concerns about the policy, the member in question exhibited behavior that club management deemed inappropriate and disruptive to other members, which is a violation of the membership agreement and as a result her membership was canceled.”
Carlotta Sklodowska soon came forward as the transgender woman who sparked the controversy. She told Michigan Live that she had only entered the women’s locker room to hang up her coat and purse, and then to retrieve them after her workout. The Midland resident added that she frequently uses public restrooms, and that “no one has complained yet.”
But almost immediately after Cormier’s dismissal from Planet Fitness, state Rep. Gary Glenn, a Republican from Midland County, rushed to her defense. Glenn, who declined to speak with msnbc for this story, told Michigan Live the gym’s stance on gender identity was an “in-your-face policy” that threatened the safety of its female patrons.
“Planet Fitness obviously should rethink its anti-woman, anti-reality policy,” Glenn said. “If they don’t, they shouldn’t be surprised in a conservative family-friendly community such as Midland if they lose more female members.”
Glenn has not yet spoken on whether or not he intends to pursue a bathroom bill. But Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, used the incident to decry non-discrimination protections for LGBT people – something that currently does not exist at the state level in Michigan, nor in a majority of the country.
“Unfortunately, this is the kind of topsy-turvy scenario that will be playing out in public restrooms, showers, and locker rooms across the country if more cities don’t turn back this push to elevate sexual orientation and gender identity above personal privacy and public safety,” wrote Perkins in an op-ed for The Patriot Post. “You don’t have to be a Christian or a conservative to understand the practical effects of these laws. ‘Tolerance’ sounds like a great idea until your little girl is in the restroom with a grown man. By introducing gender politics into an environment like a gym, Planet Fitness is creating a culture ripe for abuse.”