Hawaiian transgender woman wins rights after a decade of harassment

 photo kelli-keawe_zpse52380bb.jpgKelli Keawe is a 50-year-old office assistant with the Hawaii Department of Public Safety. She works with the paroling authority. For the past decade she has been restricted to only using the one unmarked restroom in the building in which she works because she is transgender and has not had gender confirmation surgery.

Keawe sued the state alleging discrimination. She also filed a complaint with the EEOC.









If you don’t want to go in the restroom, then don’t go, but don’t call her mister when it’s obvious that’s not what her choice is. It was important to do this to protect her rights and protect the rights of other transgender people.

--Michael Green, Keawe's attorney

Asked what restroom she should use, Green said "she can use the women’s restroom and I think the law inferentially suggests, from what the governor has said and what many people say, she can use the women’s bathroom."

After enduring it through my adolescence and childhood, I figured being an adult, it would be different. I shouldn’t have to endure this discrimination as an adult.

We shouldn’t have to go to work in fear, fear when we enter the doors that we’ll be treated differently.

--Kelli Keawe









Now Hawaii has laws to protect transgender people at work and in public accommodations, but there has been a lack of rules that has kept those laws from being implemented.

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. We have clarifying rules for cases of disabilities. If we got similar rules for say gender identity cases, that would be helpful as well.

--Ryan Sanada, Hawaii Employers Council

Apparently some people are struggling with the concept of equal treatment under the law...and that transgender women are women.

The EEOC has determined there is sufficient evidence that the Department of Public Safety violated Keawe's civil rights. The EEOC says that restricting her to the general-neutral restroom because of her sex is discriminatory.

Keawe has now received a letter from Public Safety Directory Ted Sakai informing her that she may use the restroom consistent with her gender identity.

 photo Contes_barbares_zps063ce530.jpgA hearing is scheduled for August 20 in order to enforce a settlement agreement. Monetary damages have yet to be decided. But Keawe says...

It’s not about the money. I don’t really care about the money part. It’s basically somebody’s dignity that’s been broken, and it took them 10 years too long to recognize it.

--Kelli Keawe

The Hawaiian traditional or Kanaka Maoli culture recognizes a third gender, called māhu, as exhibited in Paul Gaugin's Contes barbares.




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The basic problem is that much of the public...

Robyn's picture

...identifies "treat transgender people equally" as "treat transgender women as equal men" and "treat transgender men as equal women".

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