Georgia ACLU director resigns over transgender fight

The head of Georgia's ACLU chapter opened a new rift in the debate over restroom rights this week when she stepped down in protest of the civil rights group's support for controversial efforts to let transgender people use the restroom that matches their gender identity.

Maya Dillard Smith said Thursday she resigned because she was met with hostility when she questioned the organization's stance on the policy, adding that she risked being branded a homophobe by even raising her critique.

"There are real concerns about the safety of women and girls in regards to this bathroom debate," Dillard Smith said in an interview. "It seems to me that instead of stifling the dialogue, we want to encourage a robust debate to come up with an effective solution."

Many Georgia conservatives have aired similar concerns, but Dillard Smith adds a prominent liberal voice to the mix. She said she's had misgivings about the bathroom debate since her young daughters shared a restroom in Oakland, Calif. with three transgender women with deep voices.

"My kids were visibly frightened. I was scared. And I was ill-prepared to answer their questions," she said. "I've been asking those same questions, and now I want to raise an honest conversation about them."

The ACLU declined to comment on Smith's resignation, citing personnel matters, but a top official circulated a memo to staff arguing that restroom rights are often center stage in civil rights battles. James Esseks, director of the organization's LGBT & HIV project, said other minorities, including blacks, gays and the disabled, had to wage similar fights for equality in bathrooms.

"It’s no accident that this issue is surfacing now, as protections for transgender people increasingly become part of the national conversation," wrote Esseks, adding: "Opponents of transgender equality are seeking to exploit the public’s lack of knowledge about transgender people to incite fear and stop any further progress for transgender rights or more broadly for LGBT rights."

While the Georgia Legislature sidestepped the debate over transgender rights this year, some conservative lawmakers are weighing a range of proposals that could revive the debate.

And Georgia was one of 11 states to join a federal lawsuit challenging the bathroom guidelines released by the Obama administration in May that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Gov. Nathan Deal said the "one-size-fits-all solution to this is totally inappropriate," and Attorney General Sam Olens termed it a dramatic overreach that flouts local control.

Dillard Smith, meanwhile, launched a new website dubbed "Finding Middle Ground," with a goal of hashing out a compromise over the bathroom debate. It stars her daughter, Micah, who sounds skeptical about "boys in the girls bathroom" as slides flash with sharper questions.


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