Samuel is the kind of guy who likes helping others. He's a social worker in his mid-40s with a slightly receding hairline, a well-trimmed goatee and an engaging manner. He and his wife help their elderly neighbor by doing her Costco shopping. Samuel worries about spending enough time with his wife and four kids while trying to pursue a graduate degree. When he's able to find some free time for himself, he likes to read clinical articles in neurobiology to further his passion: helping people, particularly children, recover from complex trauma. But there's more to Samuel than suburban-dad good looks and nice-guy gestures. Beyond, perhaps even obscured by, those traits is a fierce inner courage.
Samuel is also transgender, having transitioned from female to male, here in Anchorage four years ago. The act of transitioning is daunting enough, particularly in the same community where someone already has an established identity. But Samuel also has been a public advocate for the transgender community, putting himself at risk of ridicule, ostracism and outright harm to help others.
As Anchorage prepares to vote on Proposition 1, the "potty bill," it's worth taking a minute to consider the actual experience of being a transgender person in this community. Jim Minnery and his crew from the inaptly named Alaska Family Council are trying to chip away at the legal protections Anchorage now offers its LGBT citizens by singling out the most misunderstood members of this group.
The LGBT community has made huge strides in the last decade thanks to increasing numbers of individuals brave enough to be public about their true selves. Exposure chips away at the ugly caricatures people like Minnery create about minority groups to convince voters that it's okay to deny members of those groups basic rights or legal protections.
In 2014, Samuel decided that he could no longer live in a body that didn't reflect his true gender and began to transition. He changed his name and asked everyone he knew to begin using a different pronoun: he/him rather than she/her. The social service agency where he worked, however, had not yet had an employee who had made this transition. Samuel was left to try to train the office staff himself on how to approach his transition with respect. Still, the agency would not let him tell his clients he was transitioning, even though the change in his appearance was unmistakable. Some of his colleagues, including the agency's receptionists, refused to change pronouns, leaving clients and other callers confused as to why the man they knew as Samuel was being referred to as "she."
But because Anchorage now has laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, Samuel was able to file a complaint with the Anchorage Human Rights Commission. Samuel wasn't after money or retribution; all he asked for was change. Ultimately, Samuel's agency agreed to arrange trainings led by an LGBT advocacy group for its supervisors, add gender identity to the agency's non-discrimination policies, and include information about how to support a transitioning employee in the employee handbook. These changes are not just important for future employees; this particular agency also serves a clientele that includes transgender people. None of this would have happened if Samuel had not taken the risk of disclosing himself as transgender to the community at large.
Many people in Anchorage probably have not yet gotten to know a transgender person. Jim Minnery is counting on this. A lack of familiarity allows Minnery to spin his lies that equal protection laws mean ugly bathroom encounters between upstanding community members and sexual predators masquerading as women – even though the Anchorage Police Department confirmed this has never happened.
If you don't know a transgender person, you might believe this – at least enough to sway your vote. And you wouldn't stop to think how harmful this bill would be to friends and neighbors like Samuel. Imagine the embarrassment and uproar that would ensue if a man, particularly one who does not present as transgender, was forced to use the woman's bathroom because his assigned sex at birth was female. Any woman – whether she appears transgender or not – forced to use the men's bathroom is in danger not only of psychological cruelty but of physical injury.
So let's ignore Jim Minnery's fictional potty predators and remember that your vote will affect real people, people like Samuel, whose plea for understanding is, in the end, universal: "I have to be who I am. I mean no harm to anyone, but I have be myself." And Samuel, just like every other member of this community, deserves to live in a city that honors that plea with laws protect him from harm and afford him the dignity to live his life to its fullest.
Please vote "no" on Proposition 1.
Marcelle McDannel is a criminal defense lawyer, animal lover and passionate defender of bad dogs.
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