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Discrimination Experts Watch Connecticut Supreme Court Case On Women-Only Gym Areas


A Connecticut Supreme Court case around women-only areas in gyms could have big implications on how the state sees sex and gender discrimination.

It began with two men who wanted to use a part of a gym set aside for women — because the rest of the gym was full. They sued over the state’s non-discrimination law, which bans sex and gender segregation in most cases.

Attorney James Shea represents the gym. He argued women could be objectified and harassed if they exercised with men. And even if they aren’t, they could feel that way.

“When they are exercising, when they are stretching and taking positions and poses, they feel the judgment. They feel the observation,” Shea said

Shea said that makes this different from, for example, an old-school men’s-only social club.

“When it’s based on antiquated stereotypes, discrimination based on sex is impermissable. When it’s based on the clear difference between the sexes, it’s not,” Shea said.

That phrase — clear difference between the sexes — opened up a can of worms for the eight-justice court.

“I’m going to ask you what is a simple question but probably a very complex answer. What is sex? What is gender?” Chief Justice Richard Robinson said.

A group of LGBTQ legal advocates said a ruling in favor of the gym could lead to more discrimination against trans, non-binary and gender-noncomforming people.

Justice Andrew McDonald interjected questions regarding LGBTQ individuals.

“If fear is the concern, then you’re really just going to have to wrestle down the issue of transgender women and non-binary individuals. Would lesbians be excluded from that space as well? Because of the risk of objectification of cisgender women? (No, your honor.) If the concern of women is being objectified by men, could not those same women be objectified by homosexual women?” McDonald said.

And Justice Christine Keller said the gym’s policy was based on hurtful stereotypes about men.

“It’s sending a signal to men that you aren’t to be trusted, none of you are to be trusted. So we’re all going to hide from you. It’s exaggerating some propensity or weaker trait in men, the way we used to be excluded on the same grounds,” Keller said.

The court will continue to hear the case later this week.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.