Anti-discrimination law doesn’t specify access for transgenders

Kelli Keawe, an office assistant with the Dept. of Public Safety, said for 10 years she was banned from all but one restroom in the building, because she is physically a man but identifies as a woman.

The state now lets her in the women’s room and a federal anti-discrimination agency is also stepping in.

But what about restrooms at the mall, restaurant or gym?

Guidance from legal experts so far is to offer equal access regardless of gender identity, but even though Hawaii has laws to protect transgender people at work and in public accommodations like stores and restaurants, there aren’t yet rules to clarify exactly what that means for access.

Hawaii’s law broadly protects transgender people, meaning they can’t be refused service based their identity.

Other sectors of anti-discrimination law have years of refined rules and court precedent to detail how equal access applies, like mandating wheelchair or seeing eye dog access under disabilities protections.

But the detail isn’t yet there in Hawaii’s transgender protections. So how are businesses to respond to a customer who may be concerned that they or their children may be in a restroom or locker room with someone of the opposite sex?

“That’s a very tough question to answer, and some businesses will have to weigh the pros and cons of possibly breaking the law and keeping their customers happy,” said Ryan Sanada, Hawaii Employers Council. “We have clarifying rules for cases of disabilities. If we got similar rules for say gender identity cases, that would be helpful as well.”

KHON2 will follow up with both lawmakers and the administrative side of various state departments to get answers on how these questions will be clarified for workplaces, shops and services going forward.

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