Much ado about bathrooms

July 3, 2013

Sussex County Deputy Administrator Hal Godwin has the unenviable job of lobbying for the county in the Delaware General Assembly and making weekly reports to Sussex County Council.

Two weeks ago, Councilman Sam Wilson asked Godwin why he didn't make a report on the “Bathroom Bill.” Godwin looked at Wilson rather perplexed until be realized Wilson was talking about Senate Bill 97, officially known as the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2013.

Godwin responded that he didn't think the legislation was important to the county. “We have bathrooms don't we?” Wilson asked.

Godwin said he would get back to council the following week. It didn't matter because the vote on the bill took place that day and it was signed into law June 19 by Gov. Jack Markell.

However, true to his word, Godwin did mention SB 97 in his June 25 report to council.

“How will this affect us? Will we have to put in a third bathroom?” asked Councilman Vance Phillips.

I assume Wilson meant the third bathroom would be for transgenders. During discussion of the bill, people were whipped into a frenzy over the fear of perverts disguised as men or women lurking in opposite sex bathrooms.

Godwin said the county shouldn't worry about adding new bathrooms. In testimony to General Assembly members, supporters claim there has never been a documented case of a transgender doing anything inappropriate in a bathroom in places where nondiscrimination acts have been passed. New York passed the first law in 2010.

Even so, Wilson issued the following warning. “We will have to have bathroom police to make sure they obey themselves,” Wilson said.

So what is all this fuss about bathrooms? Here is the synopsis of the bill: “This act adds the term 'gender identity' to the already-existing list of prohibited practices of discrimination and hate crimes. As such, this act would forbid discrimination against a person on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations and insurance, and it would provide for increased punishment of a person who intentionally selects the victim of a crime because of the victim’s gender identity.”

I guess the phrase public accommodations has people up in arms.

So where did the paranoia involving bathrooms originate? Searching the internet, I may have found it. You can blame Nicole Maines, a transgender girl – that means she was born a boy – who cannot use her high school girls' bathroom. Her case will be decided in Maine's Supreme Court.

So what is a transgender? It's confusing to most of us. According to Webster, a transgender is someone who identifies with a gender other than the one assigned at birth. Some go to the extreme – such as Chaz Bono – using hormone treatments and sex reassignment surgeries to change their sex.

People claim they are a woman trapped in a man's body and vice versa.

The only downstate legislator who voted in favor of SB 97 was House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf of Rehoboth Beach. The legislation was pushed through by the efforts of Sarah McBride, a transgender lobbying for Equality Delaware. I would pay to watch a debate between McBride and Sam Wilson.

So why now? What has changed over the years that makes it so important to pass a law dealing specifically with a class of people most of us know nothing about?

Although a hidden society for the most part, transgenders have been among us forever. I witnessed discrimination against a man I knew who dressed as a woman back in the 1980s. He told me he never considered himself a man, even when he was young. He shopped at the grocery store dressed in the most colorful and tight women's dresses he could find. He didn't mind the stares and jiggles.

But, he also paid the price for his lifestyle and was attacked and beaten up several times by rednecks who got a thrill out of demeaning him.

But, it was his choice to act out his life as a woman. Classes that have had to fight for their civil rights – African Americans, women, the handicapped – did not have a choice. Are transgenders in the same classification as those who took part in the civil rights movement or forged the Americans with Disabilities Act?

“We can’t just take every person out there that’s different and make laws to protect them,” said veteran Sen. Bob Venables of Laurel. His words are worth considering.



  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

    Contact Ron at