'Not just about a cake shop': LGBT people battle bias in everyday routines
By Susan Miller
Hopping a city bus on the way to work. Meeting a pal for coffee on a sleepy Saturday morning. Hitting the gym for kickboxing class. Catching
the latest blockbuster at the cineplex.
The daily drill that punctuates our lives.
For the LGBT community, it is those everyday activities that can leave people feeling the barbs of bias, a new study shows — and many are
being forced to rethink routines.
Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect people from discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual
orientation and gender identity, according to the report released Tuesday by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a think tank that
researches and analyzes state and federal laws with LGBT implications.
And 54 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act and 28 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is no federal law that offers
similar protections for LGBT people.
“People don’t understand the breadth of what public accommodations are and what they cover,” said Ineke Mushovic, MAP executive director.
“It’s all our activities and daily lives when not at home, at work, at school.”
The inaction at the state and federal level, the MAP report says, shows a disconnect. There is broad public support for non-discrimination
laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity: 72% of Americans back protections for LGBT people for jobs, housing and public
accommodations, according to non-partisan research group PRRI.
The report makes clear how discrimination can disrupt daily behavior others take for granted and leave people feeling unsafe and
• 34% of LGBT people who experienced discrimination avoided public places such as stores and restaurants;
• 47% made specific decisions about where to shop;
• 18% avoided doctors' offices;
• 10% avoided public transportation.
‘Kind of frightening’
The report comes amid high-profile legal skirmishes over LGBT rights.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in a battle over a Mississippi law that lets government workers and private businesses
cite their own religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT people.
A high court decision is also expected in the spring in another notable case: a Colorado baker’s refusal to design a wedding cake for a
Supporters of religious exemptions say LGBT people are not being singled out.
“Religious bakers, florists, photographers and others whose stories we are familiar with have not denied services to LGBT people because
of their status as LGBT,” said Bruce Hausknecht, judicial spokesperson at Focus on the Family, “but because the services being asked of
them forced them to violate their conscience by promoting or participating in something contrary to their religious beliefs.”
The conflict comes from “the message, not the person,” he said. “In most of those stories, those religious business owners had a long
history of serving, and in some cases even employing, LGBT persons.”
First Amendment rights ensure that religious beliefs are protected, said Jeremy Dys, deputy general counsel for First Liberty, a legal
organization dedicated to preserving religious liberty. “We also agree with the ACLU when it says, ‘Freedom of expression for ourselves
requires freedom of expression for others.”’
LGBT people who have felt the sting of discrimination see it differently.
Randall Magill, 28, and fiancé Jose Chavez, 26, were returning home in an Uber from a holiday gathering on the raw morning of Dec. 31.
“We were talking about what a good time we had,” Magill recalls, and they shared “a little kiss.”
What happened next rattled the couple. “I’m going to have to ask you to stop that. We at Uber don’t allow any kissing,” Magill said the driver
The driver told Magill he had given a straight couple the same warning. But Magill said it seemed obvious the two — who were sitting in
separate chairs in the back of the cab — were being targeted.
“He was in such a rush to get us out of the car, he didn’t wait to get to a stoplight,” Chavez said. They were dropped on a feeder road off the
interstate. It was raining, one of their phones had died, it was 4 a.m.
The two were able to get another Uber home. They logged a complaint and were told what they experienced was not the ride-hailing service’
s policy and the company is investigating.
“It was embarrassing, humiliating and kind of frightening,” Magill said. “Not only did he display a huge amount of hate, but he left us in a
Uber told USA TODAY it does not tolerate discrimination. “We take these types of reports seriously and have been in touch with the rider and
driver on the experience described here,” the company said in a statement, pointing to a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual
orientation and gender identity.
For the couple, the incident haunts. “It’s in the back of our heads,” Magill said.
Trans community hit hard
Transgender people are particularly in peril and report being denied services, harassed or physically assaulted in many venues, according
to the MAP report:
• 34% were targeted on public transit;
• 31% in retail stores, restaurants, hotels or theaters;
• 18% in gyms or health clubs;
• 14% at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Think about how often you use your ID or your insurance card,” said Alex Sheldon, MAP research analyst. “There are more opportunities for
(transgender people) to be outed.”
Aryah Lester, a transgender woman of color, arrived in Miami in 2005. She
said she and a friend went to about a dozen hotels along the sunny shores of
South Beach and were told there were no vacancies.
It hit home what was happening, Lester said, when they watched another
couple stroll up to the front desk of one hotel and “they didn’t have a reservation
— and were immediately given a room.”
“I had money,” Lester said. “But being visibly transgender, we couldn’t find
anywhere to stay.”
The friends slept under a lifeguard station on the sand; another night they stayed late at an LGBT club “just to have a place to be safe.”
After a couple of days they looked into homeless services and discovered there were no trans-friendly shelters at the time.
Lester, 38, is the founder of Trans-Miami and a prominent activist. But 13 years later, she can still feel unsettled.
“Even being a national advocate and a locally known leader, I can get anxiety just walking out my front door, going down to the gas station,
grabbing something at the corner store,” she said.
There is a “lingering effect” once you experience discrimination even if it’s “one
out of 10 times” when you visit a grocery store, use a restroom, order a car
service, Mushovic said. And that can cause LGBT people to re-trench routines,
“That fear is always there” it could happen again, she said. “Could this be the day you are left on the side of the road?”
Paula Sophia Schonauer, a 22-year veteran of at the Oklahoma City Police Department and the agency’s first openly transgender officer,
recounts an incident shortly after she was transitioning in 2001.
Paula and daughter Joanna Schonauer on the day she
Paula and daughter Joanna Schonauer on the day she graduated high school in 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Paula Sophia Schonauer)
Schonauer had her daughter and son, 3 and 11 at the time, with her at a local restaurant when she was off-duty — a familiar place she had
patronized before. When her little girl had to use the women's room, Schonauer went with her. When she walked out she says she could feel
the burn of “the staff talking, people looking at me. I felt uncomfortable.”
And when she returned to work, she learned someone had reported the incident to her precinct supervisors. The next time she visited a
local mall she realized security was keeping close tabs on her. “They were waiting to see what restroom I used,” Schonauer said.
Schonauer started “scoping out” places where she could use the restroom and avoiding others where she didn’t feel safe. The result: She
soon developed a urinary tract infection.
In December 2015, Schonauer, now a well-known figure in the Oklahoma City community, saw Star Wars with her wife at a local theater. She
emerged from a restroom to find three men lurking. “One said ‘you are too big to be a woman’ and they followed me, talking real loud and
calling me names,” she recalls. “We left as quickly as we could.”
Even though transgender people are more visible these days, the climate has shifted in many ways, Schonaeur, 51, said. “I’m back to being
very cautious about where I go and what I do. I don’t assume I am safe.”
Patchwork of laws
Of the 19 states and D.C. with legal protections, seven — Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey and New York — have
some of the broadest with laws explicitly covering sexual orientation and gender identity for public transportation, hospitals, schools and
places like hotels and restaurants, the MAP report shows.
Local cities and counties have also been at the forefront in many ways. The first ordinance banning bias based on sexual orientation, for
example, was passed in Minneapolis in 1974. Now, almost 300 have protections on the books for public accommodations.
But efforts to undermine these local protections have increased in the form of pre-emption laws, Sheldon said: Laws enacted by state
legislatures to strip local entities of power and make non-bias ordinances unenforceable. Some of the most notorious have been “bathroom
bills,” she noted, ones that restrict transgender people’s access to restrooms. At least 19 were filed in 16 state legislatures in 2017, the MAP
Where LGBT people reside translates into how they thrive in everyday life, Sheldon said. But “you can’t always simply go to another store,”
she said. “What if you travel two hours to see a doctor and he’s the only one?”
Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer live in Portland, Ore., a place they thought “would be more accepting,” Rachel said. But she was
astounded when she went to a suburban bakery shop with her mother in 2013 to order her wedding cake and was told the baker didn’t
make cakes for same-sex weddings.
Rachel said she felt humiliated in front of her mother, who then became the one who called other vendors for their nuptials.
The couple, whose two daughters are now 9 and 11, decided to file a complaint.
In December, an appellate court upheld a penalty against the bakery owners, who had argued the state violated their rights as artists to free
speech as well as religious freedom.
“We made the decision to go forward with this case so our daughters could learn to stand up for themselves,” Rachel, 34, said.
The couple say they still feel the slap of discrimination, one time when Laurel, 33, was trying to pick up a prescription for her sick wife at a
local pharmacy. “They said it wasn’t possible — women cannot be married.”
It is those everyday activities that can leave people the most at risk, MAP’s Mushovic said. “It’s not just about a cake shop or a florist. Are you
comfortable stopping by the pizza shop on the way home from work?”
Said Lester, the Florida transgender activist: “People think we want to be treated as special. We only want to be treated as equal.”
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