A New York transgender man is suing the city's Parks and Recreation Department after an incident last summer in which he alleges city employees refused to let him use the men's locker room at a public pool.
In the lawsuit filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court, Bryan Ellicott, 24, said three staff members, including a supervisor, at the Joseph H. Lyons Pool in Staten Island singled him out because he is transgender and told him he could not use the men's locker room — giving him the choice of either using the women's locker room or leaving the pool last July.
"I felt very embarrassed and humiliated that I couldn't be there and was told to go somewhere I didn't belong," Ellicott told BuzzFeed. "It was very upsetting to me because I wasn't bothering anyone or doing anything wrong."
Ellicott and advocates at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which brought the suit to court, said transgender people often face discrimination in public locker rooms and restrooms and that "it severely limits their ability to participate in society," said Michael Silverman, the group's executive director.
Since the incident last summer, Ellicott has not visited a public pool out of fear of additional discrimination and said he spends time each day planning where he could safely use public restrooms.
"When I'm alone, I have to know where the closest Starbucks or store is where there is a single-stall bathroom, and when I'm out with friends I have to institute the buddy system, which makes me not want to go out at all," he said. "Guy friends will go into the bathroom with me to make sure that people don't bother me. I worry about my safety and they do too."
Ellicott said people take for granted using public restrooms and lockers rooms, but that it's a real problem for transgender people.
"What happened to Bryan happens to transgender people every day," Silverman said. "Using public spaces becomes incredibly difficult. Transgender people must be treated equally and must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms like everyone else."
Ellicott's attorneys argue that barring him from the men's locker room constitutes discrimination and violates the the New York City Human Rights Law, and are asking the court to "rule for the first time that denying transgender people use of the restroom or locker room that matches their sex constitutes discrimination in violation" of the law.
The New York City Law Department, which is handling the case on behalf of the Parks and Recreation Department, said it will review the lawsuit once it has been served by the court, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed.
New York state law does not include nondiscrimination protections on the basis gender identity in the areas of public accommodations, employment, credit, and housing like it does on the basis of sexual orientation, leaving transgender people with fewer protections. A legislative push to add such protections, or the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, has long been stalled in the New York State Assembly.
Ellicott works for the Office of Emergency Management of the City of New York. When he legally changed his name in February 2012, Ellicott chose Bryan, the name of his late father who was a 9/11 first responder.
The point of the lawsuit, according to Ellicott, is to ensure that this doesn't happen to other transgender people. "Transgender people are like everyone else and deserve to be treated like everyone else," he said.