Support spreads for transgender access to public restrooms

Janice Covington Allison, center, at Democratic National Convention in Charlotte
Janice Covington Allison, center, at Democratic National Convention in Charlotte

One Charlotte woman’s campaign to make public restrooms safer for transgender people has gained momentum with news that Bank of America Stadium, BB&T Ballpark and Charlotte Motor Speedway will allow transgender men and women to use the restroom of their gender identity.

Janice Covington Allison said she would like to see Speedway Motorsports Inc. – owner of Charlotte Motor Speedway – confirm the same approach at all eight of its tracks around the country. However, a spokesman for Charlotte Motor Speedway declined to say last week whether that would happen.

Speedway Motorsports’ other tracks include Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Sonoma Speedway in Sonoma, Calif., which is the largest of the eight at 1,600 acres. The latter two are in states that already have nondiscrimination laws covering gender identity rights, suggesting both tracks already follow the practice.

“Having the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Knights and the speedway step up for this shows how the sports world is opening up and being more inclusive,” said Allison, who is an official with the North Carolina Democratic Party.

“It means they see transgender fans are like every other fan. Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. The world is changing for the better.”

The hot-button bathroom issue erupted in Charlotte in March, during a boisterous Charlotte City Council public hearing. The meeting was held over a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance that would have extended more rights to the lesbian, gay and transgender community.

The most controversial part of the ordinance would have, by law, allowed transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity.

A council majority opted to exclude that provision from the final vote, prompting condemnation from the state’s Democratic Party chairwoman, Patsy Keever, and LGBT advocacy groups. It was not long after that when Allison began her campaign to get more clarity on restroom policies at the community’s biggest public facilities.

Among the other facilities that allow transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity are the Charlotte Convention Center, Bojangles’ Arena, Ovens Auditorium and all city and county government buildings. County parks also follow the practice, officials said.

Time Warner Cable Arena has private restrooms on each level to accommodate patrons, while other major sports facilities noted they have unisex bathrooms.

In most cases, arena and stadium operators said they did not have an official restroom policy on the matter. Instead, they said it would be a “practice” to accommodate transgender people, who fall into a gray area because they were born one gender but have transitioned to another.

Scott Paul, director of operations for Bank of America Stadium, said the issue had not come up at the stadium in the past.

“After 20 years of operations, we undoubtedly have had transgender persons attend events here and, presumably, they have used the restroom of the gender with which they identify,” he said in his letter to Allison.

“Bank of America Stadium has facilities for women and men, and we have family/unisex restrooms throughout the stadium for attendees with small children or for those who desire more privacy.”

The issue of transgender public restroom access remains controversial due to a segment of the community that fears a more open policy would allow sexual predators easier access to restrooms.

Allison, who transitioned to a woman a decade ago, was thrust into the spotlight on the issue when she was forced by police to leave a restroom at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center during the March City Council debate. City officials have described the incident as a misunderstanding.

A parent who attended the meeting later told the Observer that she had complained to police about Allison being in the women’s restroom and demanded the officer remove her.

It was a moment that proved awkward for the city when it was later revealed that Allison holds several key roles with the North Carolina Democratic Party. She is currently on the party’s Executive Committee and is on the Delegate Selection Committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Allison is also the Democratic chair of Charlotte’s 29th precinct.

Allison says her letter-writing campaign underscores a personal philosophy that the community will come around on transgender rights through greater understanding, rather than being threatened with protesters standing at their gates or boycotts.

She says her next round of letters will go to the N.C. Department of Transportation. The goal, she says, is to get the state to make clear its policy on rest stops for transgender people.

“We’re going to win,” says Allison. “It’s better to be open now to transgender people than being late on the issue. Businesses are in business to make money. Driving people away due to not accepting them is losing money.”

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