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Barbershop: Bathroom Laws, Women In The Workplace And High Heels


Well, as you've heard there are lots of opinions on this one. Since the issue of transgender bathroom bills is so contentious with people of all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives weighing in, we wanted to take this conversation to the Barbershop. That's where we bring a group of interesting people together to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

This week, I was joined by Barbershop regular Dru Ealons. She's a political blogger and former Obama appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency. Also with us, Josh Levs. He's a journalist and author. His book is titled "All In: How Our Work First Culture Fails Dads, Families, And Businesses - And How We Can Fix It Together." And finally, Gayle Trotter. She is a columnist, political commentator and attorney in Washington, D.C.

And I started out by asking about the issue brought up by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about whether the White House guidance on transgender bathrooms is a government overreach. I asked Gayle Trotter for her opinion first.

GAYLE TROTTER: We all want an inclusive society. I think the problem with the way the Obama administration has carried this out is that they haven't candidly assessed the cost of this type of policy. So we understand that women need privacy. They need safety in places that they frequent. And yet the Obama administration has decided to reinterpret an old law that never included transgender people for over 40 years.

And to do this in a way from Washington one-size-fits-all edict instead of going through the constitutional process of having a national discussion, going to the Congress, having the Congress pass an appropriate law or leaving it to the states to work out how the states feel it's appropriate for them to handle it, to have laboratories of practice to understand how we can be an inclusive society, but we can also protect women's safety and privacy.

MARTIN: OK. Let me hear what Josh has to say about this.

JOSHUA LEVS: I have thought this through as a parent, you know, not just someone who's spending my whole life now fighting for gender equality in numerous ways. But I have thought about this as a parent. I've thought about it - what happens if my boys or my girl - one of them it turns out to be transgender. And on the opposite side, what happens if they are sharing a restroom. And the fact is, the lot of the arguments against this are based on inaccurate and misguided fear tactics.


LEVS: So, for example, you cannot get - you know, the lot of people say, oh some, you know, pervy teenage boy's...


LEVS: ...Going to pretend that he feels like a girl so he can go into the women's locker room. That's actually not allowed even under these guidelines. You have to fully identify by that gender in every way, and be treated as that gender by the school and in other ways. And if someone tries to fake it, tries to pull some kind of punch on this, then they can get in trouble. And that is not something that schools are required to accept.

And I imagine what it's like for my kids. Look, none of us on this - in this conversation wants any child to be in danger. I understand it's just - it makes people uncomfortable. It will take getting used to. But there isn't the reason to be afraid that our kids will get hurt because that is not happening.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, Gayle, because you raised that whole privacy and safety issue and one of the things that I wanted to ask your is that - I take it, for you this is a matter of common sense.


MARTIN: And I can guarantee you that there are people who have a different perspective on this who think that that's just ridiculous.


MARTIN: And one of the things I've observed about this particular conversation is that people who have different perspectives on it really do not understand why other people feel so strongly about it.


MARTIN: And so I just - can we talk about that for a minute?

DRU EALONS: I do understand.

TROTTER: I think that's a great point.

MARTIN: What do you think, Dru?

EALONS: Oh, I'm sorry. But I do understand that there is a fear of uncertainty because I have a fear of my child just going into the men's restroom by himself anyway just because. I'm just nervous about it, but I allow him to go. I understand that there's a fear, but where the disconnect for me is that I don't see where it is rooted in fact.

LEVS: Exactly.

EALONS: And I think that's the part for me.

LEVS: Exactly. That's it. There aren't the incidents to back up the fear.

TROTTER: If you go into...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Gayle.

TROTTER: ...Any office building in Washington, D.C., the women's rooms are locked, not the men's rooms. The women's rooms either have codes that you have to put in numbers or they have keys. Why is that? Because it is common sense understanding that in that intimate space, women are vulnerable.

MARTIN: But what is your fear? The fear is - what? - that a person is going to pretend to be a gender that he or she is not for the purpose of attacking people? Or...

TROTTER: Yes, and it's happened. There are examples of that.


TROTTER: But I'd say there are four major things that are risks.

MARTIN: When - when has this happened?

TROTTER: Number one - number one, there are peeping Toms; number two, there's video surveillance in bathrooms; number three, there are risks of sexual assault and number four there are rapes.

LEVS: All these things happen now.

TROTTER: And it's going to increase the risk. If you look at the...

LEVS: No, it won't...

TROTTER: ...Obama administration's policy, you don't have to show that a doctor has certified that you identify...

EALONS: No, no, that's not correct.

TROTTER: ...As male.

LEVS: No...

EALONS: That's not correct.

LEVS: ...You have to...

TROTTER: Have you read it?

EALONS: Yes, I've read it.

LEVS: ...You have to identify in every way. The school has to treat you as that gender.

TROTTER: No, it does not say you need to have a doctor...

EALONS: It doesn't appear to have a doctor, but it says...

TROTTER: Then you're not contradicting what I said.

EALONS: But it does not say that you don't have to have a proof or have been operating in that way and that you have...

TROTTER: You - you self-identify.

LEVS: Not for a moment just to go into a bathroom. In general, all the time you have to be treated and seen and self-identify as a girl. And you say you're a girl - the school has to see you as a girl in every way.

TROTTER: ...More restrictions on this than the actual policy.


MARTIN: Restrictions.

LEVS: It says it in the words right here. I'm looking - I got it open...

EALONS: Right.

LEVS: ...In front of me. It specifically says the school has to treat you as that gender in every way.

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: Here's where I would take issue with you. I think your argument is that this is political. There are processes for social change, and that process of discussion allows people to have their questions asked and answered. What do you say, Josh?

LEVS: Well, I - first of all, I'm not a lawyer. So I can't have a toe-to-toe legal argument with her. I can tell you that there are a lot of legal groups, and the Justice Department is filled with lawyers and they say this is legitimately a legal thing to do because when you are interpreting existing law to understand the role of gender - look, my book is about my case and how I couldn't care for my own daughter because of these backward policies that...


LEVS: ...Assume things about men and women. And so we are always reinterpreting. That's the beautiful - the beauty of American law. We are always reinterpreting through modern understandings of the diversity of humanity what these laws say and what they mean and how they apply.

None of us on - in this conversation wants any child to be in danger. I understand it makes people uncomfortable. It will take getting used to. But there isn't the reason to be afraid that our kids will get hurt because that is not happening.

MARTIN: OK, Dru, final thought.

EALONS: Whenever - a guidance - my understanding and my tenure in the administration, even when there's a guidance offered, there is time for comment. You still bring forth your issue to those bodies and let them know what your issue is.

Now, if you're talking about just a general back and forth whether it goes to Congress, that's a different thing. But this guideline gave suggestions and gave guidance on what it is under Title IX, and it also talked about even if they need...

MARTIN: But there is an implied threat, Dru. You don't deny...

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: ...There is an implied threat.

EALONS: Right. But if...


EALONS: There is an implied threat. But I read each line. I'm totally OK with this. Like, it doesn't bother me, even though my religious belief around those issues that you talk about may differ, that's my belief. But I'm not the person to be judge and jury to litigate on how you decide to choose that.

So if that is the practice and the way that I want my child to grow up to be Christ-like, then that is not the honey that he will deliver to tell him you're a bad person, you're whatever because I see that as no different than any other thing that we talk about that's different from what we are.

MARTIN: Right. Let me just give Gayle one more bite at this apple 'cause its two against one. I'm not being mean. I'm just saying it is. So I just want to give you one more bite...


MARTIN: ...At this apple.

TROTTER: ...I'm trying not to jump in. I...

MARTIN: No, go ahead...

TROTTER: ...Have many responses, but...

EALONS: Oh no, no...

MARTIN: I just want to give you one more chance...


MARTIN: ...Because there are two people with a different perspective than yours. And...

TROTTER: Yeah, I think about it in relation to my 12-year-old son. And he wants to learn about the Constitution and our system of government. And what Josh was saying really makes me sad because I think law becomes meaningless.

We don't have a rule of law if we can reinterpret a 40-year old law - more than 40-year-old law and say that the plain language, the black letter of the law is meaningless because someone has become enlightened about it. And instead of working through the democratic process that we teach our children about in school that is this great legacy that we have to pass on to them, many times in a democratic society, people lose the argument.

So maybe people who have the same view that I have will lose this argument, but we should have a discussion about it. It should go through the regular process and just put yourself in the shoes of every one - all your fellow Americans who don't have the same view.

So if you do that, maybe you can understand. Distance yourself from the particular issue and maybe this was not the best approach that the administration could have taken.

MARTIN: OK. Look, this is a very interesting and important topic, and I think...

TROTTER: We aired it here.

MARTIN: That's right.

TROTTER: It's not being aired elsewhere.


MARTIN: Well, Josh would disagree with that. He thinks it was, but I do take your point.

EALONS: Right.

MARTIN: Well, let me - before we let you go, there is one more story that we wanted to talk about, and that is - Josh, I'm sorry, I don't mean to discriminate against you on this, but there's a story that went viral this week about a woman in the U.K. who was sent home without pay when she refused to wear high heels at work for her job as a receptionist, saying that I'm on my feet, you know, for hours and hours a day, you know, escorting visitors in and out.

Now, I want to point out that the laws around this are different in the U.K. than they are here. But why isn't this gender discrimination in the sense that I can't think of an article of clothing that a man would be required to wear that has a similar physical impact.

LEVS: Yeah, ties aren't comfortable, but they're not that bad.

EALONS: I love heels. I love very stylish heels.

MARTIN: What she's wearing right now - let me look.

EALONS: I've got on kitten heels today just because I'll be doing a little...

MARTIN: They're cute.

EALONS: ...Extra walking. But either you love them or you don't. I think if that's part of the dress code, you got to figure out the way to make it happen. And I don't - I mean, I think a tie is one of the things, but you don't, you know, some men find it very uncomfortable to have something tied up to them or a bowtie, whatever...

LEVS: Yeah, sometimes it is.

EALONS: So sometimes it is.

MARTIN: Josh, you want in...

LEVS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...On this?

LEVS: Well, all I can say is I have no idea what a kitten heel even is. And...


EALONS: Google Michelle Obama kitten heels and you will see them.

LEVS: Oh, I'll do that...


LEVS: Right when we're done. I'll (unintelligible). And look, I can tell you this - as a guy, when I meet a woman, I don't even notice if she's wearing heels usually. And I certainly don't care, so I'm not sure it has much of an impact on some of these businesses out there might assume it has.

I mean, I understand sometimes there's a place for a uniform. Sometimes there's a place for that. But if there's a health reason that part of the uniform is physically bad for you, then it's time to update that policy. And in the end, it shouldn't be that controversial.

MARTIN: Prince wore heels, Josh, just throwing that out there.

LEVS: Yes...

EALONS: He sure did...

LEVS: ...That's right, he did. Prince wore heels.

EALONS: ...And had hip problems, though.

TROTTER: Yes, he did - and jumping off the stage I think that was part of it...

EALONS: I think that kind of helped it...

TROTTER: ...Yes.

EALONS: ...Yeah.

MARTIN: Exactly. Now, that's all the time have for this week, so thank you all. That's Josh Levs, Dru Ealons, Gayle Trotter, thank you all so much for joining us.

EALONS: Thank you.

TROTTER: Great to be with you.

LEVS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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