“A public accommodation is any place that provides the general public with goods and services. Public accommodations include most social services, libraries, retail stores, gas stations, hospitals, health clinics, restaurants, grocery stores, and homeless shelters. When using public accommodations, transgender people may experience discrimination despite the existence of civil rights laws that prohibit certain businesses from discriminating against customers. In some cases, this is because they are not listed or protected by a particular law. They may be treated differently than those who are not transgender, and may even face the threat of violence.”
Public accommodations are not something most people have to think about often in daily life. Most of us probably don’t even know what they are- I had never really heard about the subject until I started doing some research.
If you’ve never experienced the constant fear of whether or not you will be able to use the right bathroom or take public transportation without being harassed, or wondered to yourself if this is the day you get refused service as you walk into a business, it might be hard to understand why this is such a big issue. For you, it might be something you skim over and then move past, but for people who are gender non-conforming, it’s a daily worry.
Now more than ever, we are having the hard conversations about how trans people, and especially those of color, have to worry about their lives and safety while doing every-day things. Taking a walk in your neighborhood. Going to the grocery store. Taking a bus to work. Using the bathroom. While they may seem like small things compared to bigger issues we face, sometimes the world doesn’t feel completely safe no matter where you go.
That’s why we are demanding expansion of the definition of public accommodations to include all public services, and expansion of what groups are protected by these public accommodations. Right now, these protections don’t cover everyone equally. As we celebrate the victory of the Supreme Court’s ruling in regard to workplace protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, we also are doing the work to recognize that many Trans and Queer folks aren’t even protected when they try to use public transportation to get to work, or to a library to apply for a job, or when trying to get the healthcare they need at a hospital or clinic. While having the law uphold the fact that it’s wrong to fire someone because of how they present or identify is an important step in the right direction, we still need more protections in these other areas. Not just here in Missouri, but also nationwide.
In Missouri, it’s illegal to discriminate based on race, color, ancestry, age, disability, religion, familial status, national origin, or sex. It is not technically illegal in Missouri to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations can look like a lot of different things. When a business is aware of serious cases of harassment by its staff or customers and doesn’t act to remedy the situation, this can be considered discrimination, as can refusing entry or service on the basis of someone’s gender presentation or identity. Discrimination when it comes to bathrooms is a little different, because “public accommodations” currently refers to businesses, not public restrooms. Refusing to let a transgender individual use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity could be considered discrimination depending on the local and state laws.
PROMO, one of Missouri’s LGBTQ advocacy organizations, has been filing to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (or MONA) for the past 21 years. MONA would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Missouri’s Human Rights Act, which currently prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for other protected categories as listed above. For 21 straight years, Missouri lawmakers have rejected our attempts to outlaw the discrimination that still exists here, making daily life unsafe for many Missourians. The act has made progress, but it needs a lot more people publicly supporting it and demanding it get passed (and that means allies too, not just us trans folks).
The Equality Act is a national effort to change the legal definition of discrimination federally. This is a bipartisan act proposing to amend the Civil Rights Act to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes." It also seeks to expand the definition of public accommodations itself. The US House of Representatives passed the equality act on May 17th, 2019 and the Senate received the bill for consideration on May 20, 2019.
You might be wondering how you can possibly do anything about acts that are ultimately not left up to you or I to pass. Here are just a couple of ways you can help support our demands to be explicitly given the right to exist in public just like everyone else.
Share your story if you’ve experienced this type of discrimination + speak up and help us spread awareness! As people who have been silenced for so long, being loud can be one of our biggest tools.
- Fight discrimination at home and educate your family and friends. We are tired of having to be our own advocates every day- look for ways you can advocate for us!
- Email and call your senators demanding their support of these bills and the rights of ALL people to enjoy public services without fear.
- Continue to do the work of educating yourself on racism, transphobia, and all forms of bigotry every day so that you can continue to challenge yourself and your loved ones to be better. Making mistakes or not knowing all the right answers doesn’t make you a bad person, it’s just part of the process of growing and improving.
Until we find ways to have better, real conversations with other people, to listen to their experiences and the perspective those things have given them, we can’t make these changes. I believe that we don’t have rights such as employment or public accommodations protections because so many people still don’t know or speak to Trans people. Every time we have an uncomfortable conversation with someone, every time we open ourselves up to hear about things we’ve never experienced, we move that much closer to having an equal world for all people.
As a member of the Trans Leadership Table, these demands to me are our way of acknowledging that we deserve better, we deserve to live full and joyful lives and not to live in fear. We’re just people, and when we are able to educate about these issues and share our personal experiences, people begin to see that, and things start to shift for the better.
Public accommodations represent the truth that we have a right to exist. We shouldn’t be seen as revolutionary or radical just for living as ourselves. These demands are just the first steps to making a world that we want to live in - one where all of us matter.