I received a report this weekend, and I will state right up front, as of this writing, it is not a verified report. But it doesn’t need to be because the situation, if it did not occur on Friday in the Mat-Su, it will at some point in the near future. A woman reached out to me concerned for the privacy and safety of women and young teenage girls who work out at health and fitness clubs and gyms and use the locker rooms. She reported a man had entered the women’s locker room this past Friday at one of these facilities in the Valley and “undressed and showered to the shock and embarrassment of the women in that locker room.”

We need to draw a line in the sand sooner rather than later on this issue. It gets more ridiculous every day. The national debate, and now the same debate here at the state levels, seems to be getting us nowhere fast, unfortunately. My read is that our state law does not currently address this issue. The only way we can fix it is if we change the minds of the Senate Majority leadership who have stated bills on topics such as this will not advance to the floor.

It’s time for common sense. It’s time for sanity and privacy when it comes to bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. It’s time for Alaskans to speak up! It’s time for us to rally for privacy and safety.

Getting this issue addressed in our laws, by our courts, or by our Alaska Human Rights Commission is not going to be easy. Let’s walk through each option.

Now the question is, can we fix our law? We could if we had the votes and the political will. Our state senate, however, shifted drastically to the left after the last election…

As far as our state statutes, AS 18.80.230(b) specifies that “a physical fitness facility may limit public accommodation to only males or only females to protect the privacy interests of its users.” Unfortunately, it goes on to say nothing about bathrooms, showers, locker rooms, etc. Instead, it continues with the following: “Public accommodation may be limited under this subsection only to those rooms in the facility that are primarily used for weight loss, aerobic, and other exercises, or for resistance weight training. Public accommodation may not be limited under this subsection to rooms in the facility primarily used for other purposes, including conference rooms, dining rooms, and premises licensed under AS 04.11. This subsection does not apply to swimming pools or golf courses.” Unless I missed something in my research, neither our laws nor their accompanying regulations address this issue.

Now the question is, can we fix our law? We could if we had the votes and the political will. Our state senate, however, shifted drastically to the left after the last election, and the Senate Majority has stated on repeated occasions that it will not advance legislation on social issues to the floor. This is frustrating and troubling. I plan to make a stink about it. If the public would make a stink about it too, maybe, just maybe, pressure would mount, and the Senate Majority would come to its senses.

What about our courts – could they be helpful? Perhaps, if we had a balanced judiciary branch, we could go to court and our privacy clause in the constitution might be enough to get a ruling that we each have a right to privacy based on our biological sex in bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. Unfortunately, our courts are not balanced at present (see Why is Lady Justice’s Blindfold Slipping in Alaska?) and it is sadly highly unlikely we would get such a ruling.

I wish I had better news and a more immediate fix, but this is the world in which we live. We must bring back sanity and common sense.

Unfortunately, the Alaska Human Rights Commission is not helpful in this arena either. At first the response below seems like it might settle the matter at least for employees but then it makes an allowance and provides no precedent for protection for a situation like the one at the fitness club. Here’s the text from their guide:

“Does an employer have the right to have separate, sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, or showers for men and women?

Yes. Courts have long recognized that employers may have separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers for men and women, or may choose to have unisex or single-use bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. Employers may not deny an employee equal access to a bathroom, locker room, or shower that corresponds to the employee’s gender identity. In other words, if an employer has separate bathrooms, locker rooms, or showers for men and women, all men (including transgender men) should be allowed to use the men’s facilities and all women (including transgender women) should be allowed to use the women’s facilities.”

We can also keep our eyes on the national scene for efforts to address this. The US House would likely be on board, but the US Senate would be a tough sell. And if by some miracle, the U.S. Senate passed legislation, the chance of a presidential veto is high. On the other hand, I think if the right case made its way to the US Supreme Court, a sensible ruling could settle this matter.

We shouldn’t wait however for this to be addressed nationally. We should do what we can do here in Alaska even though addressing this issue at the state level will not be easy. The task at hand is to convince the Senate Majority to agree this issue needs to be fixed in law. That will take Alaskans standing up with a clear and loud voice. I stand ready to help make it happen if such a rally occurs.

I wish I had better news and a more immediate fix, but this is the world in which we live. We must bring back sanity and common sense. If good people are quiet, nothing will change.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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OPINION: Sen. Hughes says unverified report of Mat-Su man in women’s locker room points to larger issues

Shelley Hughes
Shelley Hughes serves as an Alaska state senator from Palmer.