Less than a year after losing the battle over Amendment 2 in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Colorado Attorney General's office is on the cutting edge of another 1990s-style controversy, although this one has nothing to do with lawsuits. Not yet, anyway.
A male lawyer with more than a decade's experience in the office has decided to dress as a woman full-time, including during office hours. It's another step on this person's road to becoming a woman, although she has yet to make the surgical leap of faith.
Other than sparking some water-cooler gossip, the decision didn't really affect any co-workers--until recently.
Then the lawyer decided the sex-change was complete enough for her to start using the women's bathroom. Female co-workers--most of whom have known this person as a man for years--were suddenly faced with the prospect of her sitting in the next stall.
The gender-changing lawyer declines comment to Westword, saying it is both a private and "personnel" matter. Others interviewed for this story have asked for anonymity because of the stickiness of the situation or because they don't want to get in trouble. Officially, the AG's office has "no comment."
The crux of the matter is that there is only one women's bathroom on the top floor of the State Services Building at 1525 Sherman Street. It's a four-seater used by about 25 women lawyers, secretaries and others. Some of those women complained when the lawyer began using that bathroom, saying they felt it was an unwelcome intrusion. There were even threats of filing some kind of lawsuit. "It's definitely something weird," says a woman who works on the floor.
Another person says this is not just a matter of people being insensitive to someone who is making a transition from male to female; the problem is that the gender-changing person is not being particularly sensitive toward others. "She's really irritating a lot of people," says one woman.
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A compromise was struck. Officials installed a lock on the bathroom's outer door similar to devices used on airplanes. When a woman goes in, she turns a knob that locks the door, and a display on the outside of the door indicates that the bathroom is occupied. That way, nobody will walk in on the lawyer, and she won't walk in on anybody else. As a result, an employee occasionally must wait a few minutes or walk down a flight of stairs and use the bathroom on the sixth floor. While some women prefer that to the alternative, others are grumbling about the inconvenience.
"It's not an issue that people always deal with in a rational and fact-based way," says another woman who works on the floor. She thinks the lock is a good compromise.
The idea for the lock came from Attorney General Gale Norton and the rest of the leadership in her office, according to people familiar with the situation. One lawyer says Norton herself has been spending a good deal of time appeasing the lawyer in question, as well as the women uncomfortable with their new bathroom mate. And there's no double standard: There is no private privy for the attorney general or her chief deputy, also a woman. They wait in line and turn the knob on the little lock just like everybody else.
But one woman on the floor says she thinks all the attention to this is motivated more by a fear of bad press than by a concern for individuals. "I think they were trying to avoid a lawsuit and all the publicity that would come with that," she says.