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GOTTA GO PEE! Pacific Place protest on Monday, Sept. 3, over Trans restroom rights

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Two self-identified "gender variant persons," who use male pronouns, say they were mistreated by a Pacific Place security guard after using the fourth floor men's restroom sometime after 9 'o clock on the evening of Friday, August 31. The incident led to a protest, described as a "pee-in," on Labor Day afternoon by as many as 40 people, mostly female-to-male transgender individuals, who took over the men's bathroom at Pacific Place.

The line of people snaked down the hall outside the restroom and around a corner. Several male patrons abandoned their attempts to use the restroom once seeing the line and the individuals in it. According to Lynn Beck, Marketing Manager for Pacific Place, security was quickly dispatched to the area to investigate the large number of people.

The first responding security guard was presented with a copy of Washington state law (RCW 49.60), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender expression and identity in public accommodations. A second security guard, arriving on the scene shortly thereafter, proceeded to instruct all who would listen that only men were allowed in the men's restroom and only women were allowed in the women's. Lincoln Rose, a transgender man and local activist, explained to the guard that, indeed, only male-identified men were using the men's and only female-identified women were using the women's.

Once the protest participants were finished using the restroom, the bulk of the group proceeded to leave the building. "No one was asked to leave the property. It was actually reported to be a calm situation," Beck explained.

Several people in the group also filled out comment cards on Monday complaining about the treatment the two gender variant people had received the previous Friday. "I felt that it was important to voice my concern over the treatment of my friends and Trans people everywhere," said Chris Burns, a protest participant, before leaving a comment card.

Four members of the group, however, went with a security guard to the security dispatch office, where they met with a supervisor. "There were about five individuals who came down and filed an official complaint with our security dispatch office and left some literature," said Beck. "The five individuals had the opportunity to voice their complaint and it was noted. They left literature here, which we appreciate, because, then, we have something to follow-up on..."

Sean, 22, one of the gender variant individuals claiming mistreatment, said he appreciated the way security officers responded to the protest on Monday. "They were very respectful; very friendly," he told the Seattle Gay News on Monday. "The officer who rode down with us on the elevator [to the security dispatch office] kept saying, 'I am so confused. I just very confused.' I thought that was cute. Lincoln responded, 'We are very confused too. We were just trying to go pee. We just had to go the bathroom'."

Most of the members of the group who participated in the protest were attending a conference for male-to-female transgender people, which drew over 400 people to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center over Labor Day weekend. A spokesperson for the Gender Odyssey 2007 Conference said the protest was not sanctioned nor organized by conference organizers.

After seeing Stardust, a movie playing at the AMC Theatres' Pacific Place, Sean and his friend, Simon, 27, attempted to use the men's restroom on the fourth floor. A person, unseen by them, yelled that there was a woman in the men's bathroom and told them that they needed to leave.

"One of our patrons in the men's restroom on level four of the shopping center registered a complaint, which our security officer responded to," said Beck.

A few seconds later, with their pants still around their ankles, a security guard rapped on their stall doors and demanded that they each come out of their different stalls. The security guard tried to get Simon to leave without Sean, but Simon voiced concern for Sean's safety, as well as his own, since everyone in the bathroom was yelling and being hostile toward them.

"I was scared, because it had been a really aggressive situation, not only on the part of security but also on the patrons who were there," said Simon. "He kept saying we should come down to his office with him, but I was really scared he was going to take us down there and call the cops."

They said they told the security guard that it was a matter of gender identity and expression. "Sean did say this was a matter of gender expression and identity. So he knew that was what was going on," added Simon. "I wanted to advocate for myself in this situation, but I was so scared. It was because I was isolated in such a huge crowd and just pointed at, basically."

"He could have been confused and not wanted Simon in the restroom, but he also could have been a respectful, decent human being about it and enforced the policy as he understood the policy," said Sean. "He went above and beyond to a level of disrespect, viciousness, combativeness and intimidation that I felt was completely unnecessary."

The security guard asked Sean and Simon to leave the building. He escorted them down four escalators and out the front door. "I do want to state that the reason they were asked to leave was because the situation broke out into a disruption. It was a confrontational environment and that is why they were asked to leave. I just want to be clear about that," said Beck. "We have a code of conduct here. Our main goal is to provide a pleasant shopping environment and entertainment environment for people as well. When there is a disruption or confrontation, based on our code of conduct, we will ask individuals to leave the center. That is what happened that evening and, really, for no other reason."

Sean admits he was angry and may have used some profanity toward the security guard. "I was so, so, angry my hands were shaking," he said. "I just wish that I had the language or ... be able to quote the law or ... to say this is wrong in an eloquent way, as opposed to saying, 'bleep you,' which is something I definitely said in the end."

Both Sean and Simon recounted examples from their past when they have been confronted about using the restroom in a public place.

"This happened just after I had a problem in a women's room just a few weeks ago," said Simon. "This was in the men's room. So, those two experiences together, in such a short period of time, are pretty overwhelming. I don't want to go the bathroom there or, really, anywhere else public."

"I always have been looking over my shoulder in places that public," said Sean. "We wanted to go in together for a reason, because this has happened to me before, many, many times. I don't ever really feel safe going to a place that public. This, of course, has not helped."

Beck said there are family restrooms on the fourth floor, which provide privacy and security to patrons. However, Sean said they were in use at the time of the incident on Friday.

"We all have 'tranny-bladder,' a lot of us, which is the ability to hold it for a long time. That can permanently damage your urinary tract," said Sean. "This isn't wrong and there are a lot of people who do this everyday. This is their life. This is what we do to survive. We empty our bladders."

"My personal experience of what happened was very scary and very upsetting, but I also understand that this is a collective issue; a health issue, a social justice issue and a safety issue-all of these things," said Simon.

General Manager Dennis Zook spoke with Sean on Wednesday evening about his experience, according to Beck. "I will say that we have never experienced a situation like this before," said Beck. "If we need to evaluate different procedures, we are completely open to doing that.... We let Sean know that we are going to follow up with him and let him know what we are planning to do."

Sean and Simon, who asked that their last names be withheld in this article, said they plan to file a formal complaint with the City and the State which both prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

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