FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — An LGBTQ activist’s use of a dramatic civil-rights story from the Jim Crow era as he pleaded for understanding and action on behalf of transgender people drew a sharp and passionate rebuke from a Black Broward County commissioner, underscoring the political and cultural fault lines surrounding issues involving gender identity.
The disagreement on display in the County Commission chambers in Florida’s most liberal, Democratic county — and the overall issue it represents and questions it raises — doesn’t follow neat political lines.
The clash began when Michael Rajner, a white gay man, prominent LGBTQ political activist, and appointed chair of the county’s Human Rights Board, implored county commissioners to speed up efforts to get unisex restrooms at county facilities.
Rajner cited a new Florida law that imposes restrictions on bathroom usage in public buildings by transgender individuals.
Unless there’s a unisex facility, people may only use the restroom that corresponds to the biological sex the person was assigned at birth, which means transgender people can’t use the facilities that align with their gender identity. Failure to leave when asked can lead to a trespassing charge.
To help make his case Tuesday evening during a hearing on the county budget, Rajner invoked perhaps the most dramatic scene from the film “Hidden Figures.”
The film dramatized the dehumanizing circumstances imposed on the central character, Katherine Goble, a Black female mathematician vital to NASA’s efforts to launch a man into space before the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, who couldn’t use a restroom in or near the building in which she worked.
After she repeatedly has to make the demeaning, half-mile walk to a “colored” restroom, Goble, portrayed by the actor Teraji P. Henson, is confronted about her long absences by her white boss, and responds with a powerful illumination of the racist rules.
Rajner likened that scene to what transgender people experience today.
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