Looking Back: How The G&L Views The T
March 31, 2010
The Blind Push For ENDA And Your Advocacy Dollars
April 19, 2010

ENDA And Barney Frank’s Trans Penis Panic

In a recent interview with Karen Ocamb, Barney Frank said:

“I’m hoping to get a vote on it in committee [House Committee on Education and Labor, chaired by California Democrat George Miller]. I’m doing a lot of work on it quietly, to get the issues involving transgender access to rooms where people have their clothes off. That’s a fact that you have to deal with, particularly for people who have not had an operation.”

Frank has had a reputation for having a preoccupation with preoperative trans-women’s penises. Since writing “A Frank Bitch Slap“, I’ve feared about Frank’s public outbursts concerning the transgender penis. Miranda Stevens-Miller said of Barney Frank:

A little while later, I found Barney without a group of people around him, so I once again engaged him in conversation. “So,” I said, “does your support of transgender inclusion in the VAWA mean that you might be changing your mind about inclusion of gender-variant people in ENDA?” An innocent enough question, but you would have thought that I was threatening him with a loaded weapon. He got red in the face and started shouting, “Never.” His problem was that until we could answer the question of “people with penises in [women’s] showers,” there is no way that he would support it. The conversation got rather heated to say the least. And with Barney speaking very loudly and repeatedly about “penises in showers,” we attracted a lot of attention in the restaurant.


In fact, it was déjà vu, recalling a similar conversation we had almost two years ago when Barney was in town for a meeting of the Stonewall Democrats. At that time, it was “men in women’s bathrooms.” I pointed out to him that while he was discussing urinary rights, I was talking about human rights and employment discrimination. His only come-back was, “What’s the matter? You too good to talk about bathrooms?”

When he hired Deigo Sanchez as his chief of staff, many thought his days of transphobic outbursts were behind him. But it seems like Frank still has this obsession. Again, from his interview with Ocamb:

“But the House has already passed the bill without it, which helped us because it helps us focus. Call people and say we want you to support the bill and don’t water down the transgender provision – because that’s the point of political trouble. And they should start calling now. I believe we’ll get a vote sometime this month.”


“Essentially, there are full protections for people who are transgender with a couple of provisos: One – the employer can ask for a gender consistent dress code. No mustaches and dresses. Two – people with one set of genitals do not have a legal right to get naked in front of the other set, is the basic way to put it. Some accommodation has to be made there.

If you insist on the right for unrestricted access to bathrooms – we lose. And we’re making some accommodations here. And we worked it out with the transgender community. We had people very upset when we raised it – it because clear we couldn’t pass the bill without it.”

But those accommodations have already been dealt with.  In April of 2007 (H.R. 2015) and in the most current version of ENDA  (3017), the shower/changing facilities issue was addressed:

CERTAIN SHARED FACILITIES- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to establish an unlawful employment practice based on actual or perceived gender identity due to the denial of access to shared shower or dressing facilities in which being seen unclothed is unavoidable, provided that the employer provides reasonable access to adequate facilities that are not inconsistent with the employee’s gender identity as established with the employer at the time of employment or upon notification to the employer that the employee has undergone or is undergoing gender transition, whichever is later.

ADDITIONAL FACILITIES NOT REQUIRED- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require the construction of new or additional facilities.

At the time,  Dr. Jill Weiss addressed the issue concerning the ENDA language by saying:

As I read it, it means that shower or locker rooms without private stalls are exempt, so long as employees get a shower or locker room ‘not inconsistent with’ their self-identified gender. Thus, a transgender person, regardless of surgical status, can be singled out for placement in a single-person shower room, though everyone else uses a multi-person gendered shower room. However, this would only happen, according to the text, if the rooms involved ‘unavoidable nudity.’ Many shower and locker rooms these days have some stalls for private use.

ENDA does not require employers to segregate transgender employees. Rather, it specifically notes that when the locker/shower room has private spaces, ENDA applies to permit the transgender person to use the room appropriate to their gender identity. But when there is no private space in the locker/shower room, then ENDA leaves it up to the employer to segregate or not to segregate – it is up to them to do the right thing, and I hope they would.”

What the bill hasn’t addressed was bathrooms…until now.  Frank’s admitted that they’re changing the language to include restrictions on bathroom usage. The narrative  that ENDA can’t pass without bathroom restrictions is something that Frank has beat the drum for again, and again, and again.

When I lobbied Senator Lugar’s office in 2007, his staff were concerned about the effect ENDA would have on businesses, not about transgender people in bathrooms. I’ve never heard of any transgender person who’s lobbied the Hill say that they’ve experienced Congressional “penis panic” either.

The question has to be asked, would Frank support the same restrictions on gay and lesbian members of the armed forces that he’s asking of transgender workers? One only need look to the newspaper to see gay men acting out in restrooms. The reality of gay men engaging in illegal sexual activities in restrooms is a common occurrence, yet Frank hasn’t publicly expressed the need to restrict gay servicemen in restrooms and showers. The issue of sex crimes committed by transgender women in women’s bathrooms is a COMPLETE FICTION, yet Frank continues to push this transgender penis panic into the media. The same kind of fear that Frank is peddling was tried both in Maryland and Gainesville, and the voters rebuffed both efforts.

The words of Miranda Stevens-Miller in 2000 still ring true today:

His adolescent preoccupation with genitals is one of the major stumbling blocks in getting federal legislation introduced to protect the gender variant people of America. With his fantasy of penises in showers, he is almost single-handedly holding back the tide of the national gender rights movement.”

Mara Keisling has been quoted that the new language “might be harmless or it might be horrible.” It looks like it’s trending towards horrible.

Marti Abernathey
Marti Abernathey

Marti Abernathey is the founder of the Transadvocate and the previous managing editor.

Abernathey has worn many different hats, including that of podcaster, activist, and radiologic technologist.

She’s been a part of various internet radio ventures such as TSR Live!, The T-Party, and The Radical Trannies, TransFM, and Sodium Pentathol Sunday.

As an advocate she’s previously been involved with the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance, Rock Indiana Campaign for Equality, and the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition. She’s taken vital roles as a grass roots community organizer in The Indianapolis Tax Day Protest (2003), The Indy Pride HRC Protest (2004), Transgender Day of Remembrance (2004), Indiana’s Witch Hunt (2005), and the Rally At The Statehouse (the largest ever GLBT protest in Indiana – 3/2005).

In 2008 she was a delegate from Indiana to the Democratic National Convention and a member of Barack Obama’s LGBT Steering and Policy Committee.

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  • Frank needs to required to provide verifiable statistics/indicents in support of his concerns. However, the factual data does not support him.

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  • Kelly

    It's been over a decade since Louisville, Kentucky (my city) passed a gender identity inclusive non-discrimination law that includes access to bathrooms. There have been absolutely zero problems with the law. None. Not a one. Zilch. Zero. It was never even an issue here so what's the problem Barney?

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  • Joanna Sue

    The most ironic thing about all of this is if ENDA does pass in this session of Congress, with all the provisions of restriction in place regarding Transgendered persons, the right wing conservatives will have Barney Frank to thank for the most restricting provisions in the bill. Furthermore if it does not pass they will again have Barney Frank's apparent dragging of his feet that likely would be one of the main reasons for it not passing. In either case the biggest irony of it all is that ENDA might well have his name forever attached to it.

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  • celesteh

    Is it fair game to ask Frank this kind of question, “Are you therefore asserting that Mr Sanchez should use the ladies?” or is it unfair to Sanchez?

  • Toad the wet sprocket

    Surprisingly – he's cool with that! (And you have my deepest sympathy)

    He's only concerned with potential, fictional innappropriate behavior if it can be imagined that it might (if it had ever occurred) possibly involve a trans woman in a rest room. If they have a penis. They must use a men's rest room.

    'Cause if they're acting innappropriately & have a penis – he wants in on it.

    Never mind whether young boys could be raped if this farcical being existed… and were in a men's rest room….and took off their clothing in front of everyone.

  • I remember when Barney Frank cruised me in the shower of the gym years ago.

  • You're right Toad. I forgot about that. Federal buildings and State Government buildings use federal and State law. Interesting…

  • Toad the wet sprocket

    Yes DC does – but local laws don't cover federal facilities . Or states, for that matter, my friend E.

  • I understand what you are saying, Last year I took a picture of myself with my hand on the ladies room door. Autumn Sandeen blogged about it.

  • Toad the wet sprocket

    Why go so far away from the Congressman's office? Doesn't he have a way to pilot this proposed policy in house, so to speak?

    Let's see what the effects to both employees & the public are when Mr. Sanchez is required to use the women's room at work? Just make sure you're ready with the bail money & the lawyer for him, Congressman.

    But – at least he would still have a job afterwards. Others – not so likely.

    I wonder how this would effect a trans kid who wanted a job as a Congressional Page? Would the have a place to stay? Facilities to use?

  • celesteh

    I wasn't entirely serious. But when people start freaking out about genitals, they've clearly forgotten about FTMs. And since many of us haven't had bottom surgery, Frank is advocating that people who look like Buck Angel should be in the ladies. If his point is to protect cisgender women from alam in the loo, then his ill-informed and transphobic suggestion would actually be counter-productive.

    I /know/ that the real point is to keep us out of sight by denying access to essential facilities in the public sphere, but if we take him at his word, his point is obviously absurd at first glance.

  • Washington D.C. has a law that allows Diego to use the correct bathroom.

  • friday jones

    Facilities in which to be used?

  • I don't think I'd use a porn star as point of reference for an argument about all access to restrooms.
    I am porn positive but I wouldn't bring to Congress as an argument to be able to use the men's room.

  • celesteh

    So Barney Frank thinks that Buck Anel ought to use the ladies room, eh? Maybe he should be asked that question directly, from somebody who had a reference photo.

  • Kat

    <<When he hired Deigo Sanchez as his chief of staff, many thought his days of transphobic outbursts were behind him.>>

    Define “many.”

  • The potty panic failed in Missoula. Of course, it wasn’t an overwhelming failure, but showed clearly that when accurate information is out there, that meme has no legs. http://dentedbluemercedes.wordpress.com/2010/04/03/the-missoula-ordinance-potty-mouthism-and-the-waking-world/

    Fully-inclusive protections passed in Missoula, Montana, last night.

    Why hamstring ENDA before the discussion even happens? Before all the amendments get tacked onto it to hamstring it further?

  • Kat

    <<Mara Keisling has been quoted that the new language “might be harmless or it might be horrible.” It looks like it’s trending towards horrible.>>

    Note that neither of the choices was “excellent” or even “good.”

    And with The Quisling involved, “horrible” will probably wind up being an understatement.