Transgender bathroom access fight triggers exit at ACLU

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ATLANTA The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Georgia chapter recently resigned over the legal advocacy organization’s stance on transgender access issues, pointing to the “frightened” reaction of her two young daughters when they were in a women’s restroom after three tall transgender women entered.

The three individuals, all over six feet tall, spoke with deep voices, Maya Dillard Smith, the former ACLU official, said in a statement provided to the liberal Atlanta Progressive News last week.

“My children were visibly frightened, concerned about their safety and left asking lots of questions for which I, like many parents, was ill-prepared to answer,” she added. But when she questioned her organization’s stance on the issue of transgender access to public facilities, including bathrooms and school locker rooms, she was met with hostility, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“There are real concerns about the safety of women and girls in regards to this bathroom debate,” Dillard Smith told the Journal. “Instead of stifling the dialogue, we want to encourage a robust debate to come up with an effective solution.” But when she sought a discussion, she was rebuffed.

Dillard Smith criticized the ACLU as focused on promoting “not all, but certain progressive rights. In that way, it is a special interest organization not unlike the conservative right, which creates a hierarchy of rights based on who is funding the organization’s lobbying activities.”

The ACLU joined the fight against a recently passed law in North Carolina requiring individuals to use public facilities that correspond with their anatomy rather than their self-selected gender identity. President Barack Obama’s Education Department has also taken multiple steps to force public schools and universities to open sex-segregated facilities to transgender people based on their gender identity.

Last month, Obama’s Justice Department sued North Carolina, claiming the bathroom law and others like it violate the rights of transgender people. The state countersued, claiming overreach by the administration. And last week, at least a dozen states, led by Texas, sued to block the Education Department directive to public schools.

In the statement to Atlanta Progressive, Dillard Smith described herself as “principally and philosophically unaligned” with the Civil Liberties Union in the transgender battle.

“I understood it to be the ACLU’s goal to delicately balance competing rights to ensure that any infringements are narrowly tailored, that they do not create a hierarchy of rights, and that we are mindful of unintended consequences,” Dillard Smith said, according to the Progressive. She also asserted that the right of access for transgender individuals has “intersectionality with other competing rights, particularly the implications for women’s rights.”

“Despite additional learning I still have to do, I believe there are solutions that can provide accommodations for transgender people and balance the need to ensure women and girls are safe from those who might have malicious intent,” she told the Progressive.

ACLU officials have said they wouldn’t comment on Dillard Smith’s resignation, calling it a personnel matter. Dillard Smith couldn’t be reached for comment.

However, Dillard Smith, who holds a law degree from the University of California and a master’s degree from Harvard University, set up a website which features a video of a school-age girl by a swing-set questioning the idea of “boys in a girls’ bathroom.”

“There are some boys who feel like girls on the inside, and there are some boys who are just perverts,” the unnamed child tells the camera. “What makes it scary is that sometimes strangers take advantage of kids.”

“I don’t want him to be uncomfortable in the boys’ bathroom either I don’t want him to be uncomfortable anywhere but what about me too?”

The brief video calls for the creation of a “safe space” to provide a forum for people concerned about new “bathroom bill” measures that lets all participants speak freely about the issues.

Reaction from transgender advocates to Dillard Smith’s resignation, press statement and website was noticeably harsh: