In September, a transgender student at Evergreen State College, Colleen Francis—born a male, but living as a woman since 2009—was using the sauna in the women's locker room at the college's recreation center when members of a high-school swim team became alarmed at seeing Francis use facilities designated for females.
In the aftermath, Evergreen installed screens in the locker rooms to increase privacy for all users, but that hasn't been enough to alleviate the concerns of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based religious organization that last week wrote a letter to the school decrying its locker-room policy regarding transgender students. "Little girls should not be exposed to naked men, period. A college's notions about 'non-discrimination' don't change that," says senior legal counsel David Hacker in a press release distributed by the ADF, which says it is acting on behalf of parents concerned for their children's safety.
The drama came to the attention of campus police, who logged a police report noting that a 17-year-old Capital High School student "became upset" when she saw Francis' male genitalia in the sauna. The report says that Tiffany Wright, a coach of another youth swim team that uses Evergreen's pool facilities, expressed concerns that girls ranging in age from 6 to 18 use Evergreen's locker room, and "were not used to" encountering transgender people with male genitalia in the sauna.
Jason Wettstein, the college's media and community-relations manager, says the matter comes down to protecting the civil rights of everyone. "In accordance with state law, the college cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity, and so transgender individuals are afforded access to the facility based on their stated gender identity," says Wettstein. "The essence of it is we're obeying state law and trying to accommodate the privacy needs of multiple users, and trying to ensure that we respect people's civil rights.
"We really worked to try to find balance here. Again, we have to obey the law," he continues. "From our perspective, the issue has been dealt with. It's really only gained additional interest through the actions of this one individual and this one outside-the-state agency."