Thursday, 26 May 2016

Signs of the Times

“A transgender employee must be able to use the toilet or changing room of their expressed gender identity without fear of harassment. People should not be made to use unisex disabled toilets, unless they choose to do so, particularly as a temporary measure during the transition period.”
(The Law Society, Working with transgender employees)

There are a number of slightly differing reports on the case of Erin Bisson, some of which seem to give a misleading impression of what occurred.

BBC News reports that:

“A transgender woman has won her bid to have a ferry firm remove the words "ladies" and "gents" from its toilets. Erin Bisson, from Jersey, launched legal action for discrimination against Condor Ferries after a member of staff told her to use a disabled loo. She had also said the use of words rather than symbols on toilets amounted to indirect discrimination. The firm admitted discrimination at the island's Employment and Discrimination Tribunal on Friday.”

Now this story taken at face value suggest that a member of staff told her to used the disabled toilet when she was actually on board the vessel.

That in fact was not the case, as can be seen from the Sun which reports:

A FERRY company has been forced to change all its toilet door signs after staff told a transgender taxi driver to use the disabled loo. Erin Bisson, 40, launched a discrimination case after she was left “humiliated” by Condor Ferries. Erin had called the firm to check she could use the ladies’ before sailing from Jersey to Saint-Malo, northern France. But she recalled: “Condor said the only facilities I should be using are the disabled facilities.”

And the Daily Mail reports:

A transgender woman has won a landmark discrimination case forcing a ferry company to remove the words 'ladies' and 'gentlemen' from its toilets. Condor Ferries has become the first firm to change the gender specific signs on the doors after Erin Bisson proved she was 'humiliated' at being told to use the disabled toilets. Ms Bisson, formerly known as Robert until she identified herself as a woman, complained to the Jersey Employment and Discrimination Tribunal that she had been discriminated against after the operator banned her from using the 'ladies'. She argued the use of words rather than symbols on toilets amounted to indirect discrimination. It was the first decision of its kind taken since Jersey introduced gender discrimination laws in 2015 and Ms Bisson has now urged other companies to follow Condor's lead. Condor later admitted to the tribunal that there had been a 'non-intentional and non-malicious act of discrimination'.

The Mirror conflates the accounts, stating at first that it was an “incident on a sailing to St Malo”, then correcting that by giving the account that it was in fact a result of a telephone call before sailing:

A ferry firm has changed toilet door signs after a transgender passenger was ordered to use disabled loos instead of the ladies. Taxi driver Erin Bisson, 40, had a complaint of discrimination upheld by a tribunal . Ms Bisson, from Jersey, said she was “completely embarrassed” by the incident on a sailing to St Malo. Condor admitted to the tribunal that there had been a “non-intentional and non-malicious act of discrimination” towards Ms Bisson. The company will remove the words “ladies” and “gentlemen” on all toilet doors and use male and female gender symbols instead. Ms Bisson, 40, a taxi driver, from Jersey, said: “I’m transgender. Rather that just going to use the ladies toilets I phoned up Condor before I sailed to St Malo advising them as such. “They are the ones that own the toilets and decide who uses their facilities. I did not want to be humiliated. Condor said the only facility I should be using are the disabled facilities.”

Pink News reports much the same:

A trans woman who was told she wasn’t allowed to use the ‘Ladies’ toilet has won a case against Condor Ferries. The ferry company had faced action over its treatment of Jersey trans woman Erin Bisson from the company – which operates ferry services between the Channel Islands and Poole, Portsmouth, and France. Ms Bisson says she had asked the company which toilets she should use, and was advised “I should be using the disabled toilets”, which she says amounts to direct discrimination.

BBC Good Morning Jersey, reporting on the story at 6 am said that the call centre operative who spoke to Ms Bisson “suggested she used the disabled toilet if she didn’t know which one to use”. The word "suggested" gives a very different perspective than the word "told to" which is used throughout most of the other stories.

And later, Chris Stone talking to Ashlea Tracy at 7.08 am, expanded on this. He said that Ms Bisson phoned the call centre asking which toilet she should use as a transgender individual. And he reported that “the lady on customer service said that she would have to check and call her back. But in the course of that conversation the operator suggested that she should perhaps use the disabled toilet instead.

Now this puts a very different slant on the story. It contradicts the statement that Ms Bisson is reported as saying that “Condor said the only facilities I should be using are the disabled facilities.”, or the report that “the operator banned her from using the 'ladies', and as Guernsey Press reports it, “the operator said that she would have to use the disabled toilets, rather than the ladies.”

There is a whole world of difference between that and the BBC report by Chris Stone that “suggested that she should perhaps use the disabled toilet instead”

The BBC report on Good Morning Jersey is in fact the only one to give this. In context it makes sense, it was a stop-gap solution which came up in conversation. Why, after all, would the operator say she would have to find out and call Ms Bisson back if she was then going to lay down the law on the matter?

Clearly the reporting in the national media has been sloppy, and slanted to portray Condor in the worst possible light, as a dinosaur whose staff have entirely the wrong attitude. They don’t mention the whole exchange, and  do not mention the operator saying she would have to find out and ring her back, or the tentative nature of the suggestion “should perhaps use the disabled toilet instead”

One can only speculate on why the operator then made the gaff which caused the claim of direct discrimination, but I wonder why the phone call was not terminated at that point. Indeed, Chris Stone reports that the conversation continued, and that tentative suggestion was made during the course of that continuation.

Now I am sure Condor, like most business of that kind, tell callers that “calls may be recorded for monitoring and training purposes”. Somewhere there is probably an exact recording of that exchange, and it would be interesting to read a transcript, and see how the conversation took place.

According to Lamda Legal: “A transgender person should use the restroom that corresponds to his or her gender identity”, and not, therefore, their initial biological identity.

There are certainly serious issues at stake. Only last month, the Mail reported that “A petition to boycott Target has gathered more than half a million signatures after the company announced that it would allow transgender people to use their preferred bathrooms in its stores last week.”

It also noted that:

“Target's decision to let transgender customers and staff follows a wave of anti-transgender sentiment that has swept America in the past year. The most notable example is North Carolina's decision to pass its House Bill 2, which - among other things - restricts bathroom usage in certain spaces, including government buildings, to a person's biological sex.”

And eleven states have filed a lawsuit against Barack Obama's administration, challenging the government's directive that transgender individuals should be permitted to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

All this is, however, a far cry from a private telephone call in which a tentative suggestion was made as a stop-gap.

Clearly it did breach the law, and was an act of direct discrimination, but equally, most of the media reporting does not appear to be accurate if compared with the BBC live report (available on “listen again”), and this only shows how easy it is to get a very different slant on what may have happened.

If the reports quoting Erin Bisson are correct, she appears to be spinning the story to put Condor in the worst possible light. The alternative is that the reporting by Chris Stone on BBC radio Jersey’s Good Morning programme which outlined the tentative nature of the suggestion was inaccurate. Unless a transcript of the original conversation is possible, we shall never know.

Looking at this as a historical study, it is not my job to take sides, but simply to put the contradiction in the telling of the story before the reader.

1 comment:

James said...

A possibly interesting sidebar on this story: I've just spent a fortnight in Canada. There are no "disabled" toilets - all the special-fit toilets are marked as "family washrooms" (and they are almost always spotlessly clean to boot).