The ACLU Foundation of Southern California; ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties; and law firm Nixon Peabody LLP joined a state lawsuit on behalf of Christynne Wood, a transgender woman denied use of women’s bathrooms and locker rooms at a Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon.
Wood, who lives in Lakeside in San Diego County, has been a dues-paying member of the Crunch Gym in El Cajon for about 11 years. Due to her diligent adherence to exercise programs at the gym — most especially in water aerobics sessions — Wood lost more than 100 pounds. She also made friendships at the gym with gym members and fitness instructors.
Early in life Wood, now 61, realized that her gender identity was female, but she didn’t feel comfortable expressing that publicly. Only after becoming more acquainted with the LGBTQ community did she gain confidence about identifying as a transgender woman. In 2016, she began transitioning to female with the support of health care providers.
Wood told the instructor and other participants in the water aerobics classes about her transition. She continued to use the men's locker room, but in September 2016 she began to get harassed there. Feeling threatened and humiliated, she fled the locker room and reported the incident to a gym manager. But as near as Wood could tell, no action was taken to address the situation. Wood asked to use the women's facilities and was told she could do that if she obtained a doctor’s verification of her transitioning. On Sept. 30, 2016, she presented the letter that not only confirmed her treatments, but also stated it was "very important" she be able to use the women’s facilities at the gym.
Still, Wood was denied use of the women's locker rooms and bathrooms, even after obtaining a Superior Court order legally changing her name and gender. It was only after another harassment incident — a man in the locker room referred to her as a "fucking faggot" — that Wood was finally allowed access to the women's facilities. This was on Sept. 15, 2017, almost an entire year after she presented the doctor's letter.
The refusals to give Wood access to the women's facilities were clear violations of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination based on "a person's gender identity and gender expression." It goes on to define gender expression as "a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth."
The suit asks the court to order Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon to provide all current and prospective members access to the locker rooms and bathrooms appropriate to their gender identities. It also asks that the gym be required to provide appropriate training to all managers and employees on obligations under the Unruh Act, with special emphasis on gender identity and the prevention of harassment. The suit also asks that monetary damages be paid to Wood, including those provided by the Unruh Civil Rights Act.