Hobby Lobby isn't exactly on everyone's "best corporate friend forever" list at the moment. While the case of insurance coverage of contraception has been getting all the attention, there is in fact more discrimination to be found! A transgender employee who has been with the company for sixteen years has been fighting Hobby Lobby over a complaint made three years ago.
Meggan Sommerville who works at an Aurora, Illinois Hobby Lobby store, filed a complaint to the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) in 2011. When she joined the company in 1998, she was still being perceived as a man. Transition seemed to be no issue for the company—at first. No issue about her changed identity in 2009, or her subsequent name change, or the fact her birth certificate has also been modified. Her health insurance through the company recognises her as female and pays for her hormone replacement therapy. No problem!
Then Sommerville tried to use the women's restroom and apparently that was just too far.
Since then they still have denied me use of the women's restroom, even though my state ID [and] even the health benefits of my own company recognize me as female. I'm just looking to be treated equally with every other female in the company—not just in the store, but in the company. If they recognize me as female for certain things, why can't they recognize me as female for everything?
Of course, the company has essentially responded that Sommerville will need to have sex reassignment surgery in order to use the women's restroom. As someone who was born in Illinois, like Sommerville, I know exactly what it takes to change your birth certificate, and you don't need sex reassignment surgery for the State of Illinois and the federal government to legally recognise you as female. Gee, I ought to know. And what about customers? Are they checking to make sure every customer is either cisgender or has had sex reassignment surgery? If not, it seems an unfair burden to place on Sommerville for that reason alone. Of course, it's totally unacceptable in general, as her lawyer Jacobe Meister has said.
Hobby Lobby's taking the fairly absurd position that in order for Meggan to be able to use the female facilities, she has to undergo reconstructive surgery. There's absolutely no support in the law for this, but they are being adamant in trying to create this unlawful rule.
The problem as I have pointed out before is how dangerous it can be for a trans person to use a bathroom which does not match their outward appearance. I only use the bathroom for the gender listed on my documents. Should I get stopped, at least I have ID (multiple forms of it) which says F/女 on it. I have nothing to support any claim I would make in the men's restroom if stopped. Jennifer Levi, the director of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defender's Transgender Rights Project, explained that such exclusion from both restrooms is not unusual.
It's very common that a transgender person is excluded from using the facility consistent with their gender identity because of other people's misconceptions of what that person's gender is. It's no more possible for a transgender woman to use the men's room than it is for any other woman to be able to use the men's room.
This essentially means that denying Sommerville use of the women's restroom is "the same as denying [her] the restroom facility," according to Levi.
Denying women medical necessities like contraception or bathrooms seems to be what Hobby Lobby does best. Well, that and crafts. Maybe they could combine the two! I wonder if Sommerville's managers gave her the write up memos on recycled stationary in a customised frame?
Image via Dan Holm/Shutterstock.