The head of the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has resigned after a scare with her daughters involving men entering a women’s restroom.
Maya Dillard Smith had been interim director of the chapter since 2015. She said she resigned because of the hostile reaction to her questions about the advocacy group’s participation in litigation on the use of opposite-sex public restrooms by people who identify as transgender.
“There are real concerns about the safety of women and girls in regards to this bathroom debate,” she said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It seems to me that instead of stifling the dialogue, we want to encourage a robust debate to come up with an effective solution.”
She said she had misgivings about the issue since the time her young daughters encountered three deep-voiced transgendered young adults over six feet tall in an Oakland, Calif. restroom.
“My kids were visibly frightened. I was scared. And I was ill-prepared to answer their questions,” she said in a statement published by the Atlanta Progressive News website.
Smith said that transgender rights have implications for women’s rights. She said that accommodations for transgendered people must “balance the need to ensure women and girls are safe from those who might have malicious intent.”
While she previously thought the ACLU aimed to balance competing rights and be mindful of unintended consequences, she now thinks she is no longer philosophically aligned with the organization.
Smith — who is African American — accused the legal group of promoting only “certain progressive rights.”
“In that way, it is a special interest organization not unlike the conservative right, which creates a hierarchy of rights based on who is funding the organization’s lobbying activities,” she said.
Smith has launched a website, Finding Middle Ground, that aims to voice her concerns in the current debate.
An ACLU spokeswoman gave Reuters a memo stating that the ACLU’s position is that “transgender people can use facilities and participate in activities that match who they are.”
The group’s North Carolina affiliate is challenging a state bill that officially establishes single-sex restrooms in the state’s schools and public buildings. It requires people to use the bathroom on the basis of the sex on their birth certificate.
The Obama administration recently sent a letter to all public school districts indicating that they should allow students who identify as transgender to use the bathroom that matches this self-perceived gender identity. Georgia is one of 11 states challenging the directive.
The American Civil Liberties Union is involved in civil rights work on racial issues and the misuse of police force, but it is also a staunch defender of legal abortion and LGBT causes. It is a critic of Catholic ethical standards against abortion in Catholic hospitals. It has also argued that religious freedom protections are discriminatory.