Should Planet Fitness allow a transgender woman use the woman’s locker room?

Dear Dwonna:

You’re a big supporter and advocate of LBGT rights and equality. What did you think about Planet Fitness canceling the membership of the woman who complained about a transgendered woman using the woman’s locker room?




Dear Kayla:

Yes—my friends and family and students know me as a big advocate of marriage equality and of LGBT civil rights, so my answer might come as a shock to many.

For those who have not heard, here’s the background to the story. In early March, Planet Fitness—a national gym whose mantra is that it is a “Judgment Free Zone”—canceled the membership of a woman who complained about a transgendered woman in the woman’s locker room.

Yvette Cormier, a 48-year-old member of the Midland, Michigan, Planet Fitness, said that she was “stunned and shocked” when “a person she thought was a man” (“he” was wearing leggings and a baggy t-shirt) entered the woman’s locker room while she was changing clothes. Cormier then complained to a front desk employee. “I wanted to know why there was a man in the woman’s locker room,” she told WNEM, a Saginaw TV station. “He looked like a man, and that’s what stopped me in my tracks.” The Planet Fitness employee told Cormier that it was “company policy to allow members to use whichever locker room associates with their gender identity.”

“They proceeded to tell me that they have to embrace whatever sex somebody thinks they are, and they’re allowed to use what restroom that they would want to use,” Cormier said. “They should point that out before you sign up to join their gym or post it on the front of the bathroom door.” The mother of two said that she was “acting out of concern for her safety and the privacy of other female gym members when she raised the issue on Saturday, February 28.”

Cormier returned to Planet Fitness on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday “to get the word out” to other women that they “let men in the women’s locker room.” Cormier told CNN: “Every day I said, ‘just so you know, there’s a man they allow in this locker room and they don’t tell you that when you sign up.” Planet Fitness—perhaps fed up with Cormier’s unwillingness to drop the subject of this transwoman in the woman’s locker room—canceled her membership, saying that “the manner in which this member expressed her concerns about the policy exhibited behavior that management at the Midland club deemed inappropriate and disruptive to other members.”

Cormier said that she stands by her actions in a case that has drawn national attention to what rights transgender people have (or don’t have). “This is all new to me,” Cormier said. “I didn’t go out to specifically bash a transgender person that day. I was taken aback by the situation. This is about me and how I felt unsafe. I should feel safe in there.”

I suspect that my opinion to all of this will surprise a lot of people who know me and who know how vociferously active I have been in promoting the humanity and civil rights of the LGBTQI community, but I agree with the woman who complained about having to share a locker room with a transwoman. While I disagree with Cormier’s tactic of devoting four straight days to telling women who came to the gym that Planet Fitness allows transwomen to use the women’s locker room (that was quite obnoxious), I agree that every women should feel safe in a locker room that is supposed to be reserved for women only.

The issue is not that there are transgendered people in this society; of course, I believe that they should be treated with dignity and respect at all times and in all places. However, when it comes to sharing a public locker room where I am changing my clothes or taking a shower or using the restroom, I do not wish share this space with someone who is—biologically—a male and who, by all account, looks like a man. (It should be noted that Carlotta Sklodowska, the “man” involved in this case, has not taken hormones or had surgery to become a woman and that even he acknowledges that his “body structure is masculine.” “It’s obvious, even from the back,” Sklodowska said.) While I do believe that most people who present themselves to the world as transgendered really do believe that they were born in the wrong body, what is to prevent a man from saying that he’s transgendered just to gain entry into a woman’s locker room? I doubt that this would happen very often, but we live in a sick society where this is a very real possibility.

When I mentioned my opinion to a former male student who says that he’s a transwoman, he immediately accused me of being “transphobic” simply because I said that I did not feel comfortable sharing a locker room with a man who chooses to present himself to the world as a woman. He also told me that gender is fluid, that it is socially constructed, and that it is not defined by one’s genitals or sexual orientation. I disagree. There are, indeed, biological differences between men and women, and if gender is not “real,” then why do we even have men’s and women’s locker rooms at all? Why do we have men’s and women’s bathrooms? Where—and how—do we draw the line on how men and women should interact in public if gender is not “real” and is simply “socially constructed”?

The other thing that I think many transwomen fail to understand is what it means to be born and live in America as a woman. Although many transwomen have a plethora of stories about feeling alienated by the larger society because of their feelings of having been born “in the wrong body,” my life as a woman began at birth. As Shirley Chisholm said, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: it’s a girl.” Because many transwomen began and have lived a significant proportion of their lives as men, most of them have been accorded a certain unearned privilege that I as a woman have never received. Thus, they may not be aware of the fear that many women experience when they suddenly notice that a transwoman who looks like a man is standing next to them as they are changing their clothes in a locker room.

As a person who has only lived as a black woman, I know what it means to be vulnerable around men and especially around white men. I know what it means to be afraid to walk my dogs around my neighborhood before dusk and after dawn and to be told to “fuck off” when I ignore the man who’s whistling and hollering at me and trying to get my attention. I know what it means to fret about what I’m going to wear each and every day because I worry that a “provocative” outfit might lead some man to objectify me and/or my body. I know what it means to be extra vigilant when I’m home alone at night and hear a strange noise, and I fear for the day when Satchel Paige—my very protective lab/chow mutt—shuffles off this mortal coil and ascends to his place in doggy heaven because he makes me feel relatively safe in my house. Announcing that I prefer not to undress and shower in front of a man who says he’s a woman does not make me transphobic; it makes me a woman who lives in a society where women are often not safe around men. I, like a lot of women, live in a state of constant fear. Every. Damn. Day. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

When my trans-student asked me what my solution was because “transwomen are not men” and that “sending us to the men’s room would cause even more of a controversy,” I told him that the solution is very simple: have unisex bathrooms and ask those transwomen who “look like men” (or transmen who “look like women”) to use them. Although most transgendered people would prefer that everyone accept their new identity, it is neither fair nor reasonable for them to expect every woman to feel safe dressing and undressing in front of a transwoman who looks like a man. Transwomen should be more cognizant and more sensitive about how vulnerable this might make some women feel, and they should accommodate us even if they think we’re being capricious and thoughtless. This is not like the argument that some military folks made during the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” when straight men said that gay men would stare at them in the shower; this is about common sense and making sure that men and women have safe places to change their clothes, to use the bathroom, and to shower. This is not about keeping transwomen out of the gym or relegating them to lesser roles in society; it’s about giving all women some peace of mind.

I’ve talked just a little bit to my former male student who now lives part-time as a woman, and I must confess that I still don’t understand what it means to be transgendered. I am, nonetheless, open to learning and to hearing about his experiences. What does bother me, though, is that I cannot honestly ask him questions or tell him my opinion about having to share a locker room with someone like him without him calling me “transphobic” and then summarily dismissing what I believe are my very real concerns about sharing that space with a man. Why does his desire to live as a woman trump my desire to feel safe and comfortable?

Planet Fitness had every right to cancel Yvette Cormier’s membership. She was an obnoxious bully who didn’t behave well, and she deserved what happened to her. However, Yvette Cormier had every right to be concerned about Planet Fitness’s policy that allows every man who presents himself as a woman to use the woman’s locker room. The question then becomes: how do we help transgendered people feel safe in the ever-changing world while also making sure that all those they encounter feel safe and comfortable, too?

I am all for integrating transgendered people into mainstream society, but the reality is that we don’t live in that world yet. Establishments like Planet Fitness are a great beginning for helping society make that transition, but in the meantime, we must respect not only the feelings of the transgender community, but everyone else as well. So, the answer for now is simple—full disclosure. And unisex locker rooms. And just a little more time.


How do I help my friend come out?

Dear Dwonna:

I found out my friend is a lesbian, but she doesn’t think I know. How do I approach her with the situation without it being uncomfortable?




Dear Terry:

Blake here, and it’s so great to be back!

This is a pretty common question, but a great one, regardless.

Quite simply, you don’t approach her about it. The only time I would recommend approaching someone about their sexuality is if it seems like they’re hurting because they’re hiding.

Because I do not know the full story regarding your friend and how she feels about her identity, I can only say that you should give up your “need” to know for sure. When she is good and ready, she’ll tell you. Coming out is a journey, and if she truly feels you are her friend, she will tell you in her own time and in her own way. Forcing the subject may even put strain on your friendship. Until then, be supportive, be a good listener, and be open to dialogue. Once she opens up, your friendship will open up as well.

Best regards,

ImageBlake Haney

Duck Dynasty–Free Speech is not Absolute

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about what the Duck Dynasty guy said about gay people? Doesn’t the First Amendment protect people from saying what they want to say?


What happened to “Freedom of Speech”?


Dear “What happened to ‘Freedom of Speech’”?

No, we do not have an absolute right to free speech, which is why it is illegal for someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded—or not so crowded—movie theatre. Remember the Harvard University student who this week was charged with calling in a bomb threat in order to avoid taking his final exam in his “GOV 1368: The Politics of American Education” course? He faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; the First Amendment does not protect folks who threaten to do harm to other people.

Moreover, “Freedom of Speech” does not mean freedom from consequences or repercussions, and public figures should know this better than most. I must often chide my college students when I see their inappropriate Facebook posts, as I don’t want their drunken party pictures or naked selfies to be a barrier from them getting the job they want in the future. I often tell these students that before they post something to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram that they should ask themselves: “Is Dr. Goldstone going to call me into her office and yell at me?”

A friend of a former student asked that we “consider the source” because Phil Robertson is “backwater bred” and that “Honey Boo Boo probably has more intelligence” than the entire Duck Dynasty clan. The problem with this logic is that not only do many, many millions of people watch Duck Dynasty (yours truly is not among them) but also because Robertson’s supporters perhaps now feel more comfortable spewing their hate in public forums like Facebook and Twitter. “God put him where he is so that his voice could be heard,” I read on the Facebook wall of someone I used to like and respect. It is very hard for me to continue respecting someone who agrees with Robertson’s views on homosexuality.

Let me be clear on this. When Phil Robertson is quoted as saying: “a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus” and “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical,” he is NOT speaking God’s word. I will never understand people who profess to be Christians saying and/or writing ANYTHING that could harm another person. Is this really what Jesus wants HIS followers to do? Do these Christians really believe that Jesus—a man who spent a great deal of his time with prostitutes, lepers, and other outcasts of society—wants his “followers” to use His name to spread hate and judgment? Is Jesus happier that people like Phil Robertson say things that will make gay people think that they are an abomination who are on the highway to hell? Is Jesus happier that Phil Robertson widens the divide between believers and non-believers?

I imagine that Jesus weeps for those who use His name to spread the Duck Dynasty brand of Christianity. No matter what Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, and his supporters say, I will continue to believe that we are here on Earth to spread love and to bring good will to one another, and we have a responsibility to perform acts of kindness each and every day. Phil Robertson and his Duck Dynasty Clan have the right to say whatever they want because the First Amendment gives them “freedom of speech,” but his “freedom of speech” is not absolute. What I hope that Phil Robertson has taught us is that people of all faiths (and those of no faith at all) should do that which makes the world better. As Mother Theresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” This, my dear friends, should be for what we all strive with each person we encounter and in each day we live.

An Open Letter to Phil Robertson

Dear Mr. Robertson:

I won’t call you Phil, like everyone else does, because I do not know you personally. This is in the same way that you do not know me personally; however, that did not stop you from making a blanket statement about me and those like me. I’m talking about gays, not terrorists (just one group to which you equated us).

My name is Blake Haney. I was born and raised in Tennessee. I’m not just someone shouting about what you said just because I read about it on Facebook. I am someone who used to watch your show, though I have not watched it since the dispute with A&E over how much money to pay you and your family. I bought family members Duck Dynasty merchandise even after I stopped watching, but that ends today.

Growing up, I enjoyed hunting with my dad. I wasn’t avid. I wasn’t good at it either. I just enjoyed spending time with my father on the water. Waders, camo, guns…duck calls. I own one duck call. It was my dad’s, and I have held on to it for years. He even checks in every now and again to make sure I still have it. Sometimes, I’ll pull it out of the box, and I’ll call just to hear the sound. It’s a classic Duck Commander call. Funny how you were part of my life at an early age, and I never even knew.

Today, I am at a different place in my life. After years of battling, I’ve finally accepted myself for whom God made me to be—gay. I have found a church that is accepting and loving, and I have accepted a calling to help young LGBT people find their place within the church. God loves them just as much as He loves you. You had an opportunity to use your platform for greater good. Instead, you singled out a group that fights tooth and nail just to have what you talk so much about on your show: family.

Comments such as yours bring young people to their knees. They’re praying without seeing change. They’re trying, and they are failing. Instead of going on, they are choosing to end it. To say that I didn’t consider using the shotgun I had used to hunt with my father to end my own life would be a lie. Thankfully, I was able to push forward.

Your words have meaning, sir, and you must take accountability for them. I don’t care from what generation you are a product. You are old enough to know better. As one of my former professors used to tell me, “Blame your parents for the way you are. Blame yourself for the way you’ve stayed.” It’s okay to have an opinion, but make sure it’s an educated one. Critically read your Bible. Befriend an openly gay person, and ask questions. Grow.


Blake Haney

I’m coming out, I think….

Dear Dwonna,

 I want to come out to my family, but I am scared. I’ve already come out to a few friends, but my family is so important to me. I just want to feel supported. How should I come out?


 Scared and Nervous


Dear “Scared and Nervous”:

Dwonna loves to send me the LGBTQI questions, and I love answering them. This question is one that many people have been asked me many times. It’s an enormous step, coming out as the person you’ve always been. Part of coming out is explaining that very fact to the people who love and care about you. You are still the person they’ve always known and loved.

There is not one way to come out. I know people who have had sit-down, face-to-face discussions with their families. I know people who have made videos. I know people who have blurted it out at the dinner table because they couldn’t take the tension and the anxiety any more. I had already tried coming out when I was 17, and I allowed my parents to believe that my attraction to men was a phase that I could pray my way out of. In 2009, I came out to my middle sister, and three years later I came out to my oldest one, just a few months before my parents. My friends were getting married and having children, and I knew my family was waiting for me. However, I was waiting on something different, but really, it was something very much the same. It was just with someone of the same gender.

So, after years of trying to make it work with the “right girl,” I chose to write my parents a letter. I did this mainly because I knew I would cry, and I wanted to be clear and precise. At 25, though, it was time. I was preparing to move from the comforts of Austin Peay and Clarksville back to my parents’ home in Chattanooga, and I wanted to return to them and to the city as a free person. I wrote my truth, stuck a stamp on the envelope, and sent it into the unknown. I knew that my parents loved me. In fact, I had always known that, but they raised their family in an independent Baptist church, and I was worried that they’d support the church’s beliefs over me.

It was a Monday afternoon when my parents received that letter. My heart almost exploded when I saw a text from my mom. She responded positively, but in her usual brevity that I have come to love: “Got your letter. I love you. Good night.” Dad was the one I was most nervous to hear from. His text came on Tuesday; it was a beautiful response: “You are my son. My love for you is deeper than any ocean. I will call you later.” I will never forget their kindness and gentleness for accepting me for whom I am.

I want to be clear, though. Not everyone is as lucky as I was. Some people experience pain and heartbreak as a result of coming out. I want you to remember that we, as a community, are here for you, and we sometimes have to become a family all our own. However, we also have allies who are there for us, too, and don’t forget to lean on those friends who you have already told. You’ll remember the moment you came out to your family for the rest of your life, and you will feel free just like I did no matter how it turns out. 

Good luck!