MacIver News Service
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – Can a liberal move so far left that eventually she turns right?
That appears to be the case – kind of – in Madison, the Badger State’s bastion of anything-goes progressive ideas.
In January, Mary Jo Walters, far-left activist and independent candidate for U.S. Senate (because ultra-liberal Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, could use the competition), filed a discrimination complaint against the Rape Crisis Center in Madison.
Walters’ liberal resume includes Wisconsin Capitol “occupier” during the left’s 2011 protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s public sector collective-bargaining reforms, a Democrat candidate for Wisconsin lieutenant governor in 2014, a grassroots activist in the campaign to legalize cannabis, and a self-described advocate of social justice issues.
Her allegation: That a November #MeTooMadison fundraiser for the Crisis Center, in an attempt to make all event-goers feel welcome, established “Gender-Neutral” bathrooms, according to documents obtained by MacIver News Service.
The event, held at downtown Madison’s Majestic Theatre, featured the stories of sexual assault victims – in the spirit of the national #MeToo campaign to bring awareness and support to survivors of sexual violence.
Walter’s complaint was eventually dismissed for lack of probable cause.
In her original complaint, filed with Madison’s Department of Civil Rights and the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, Walters wrote that having to use a gender-neutral bathroom was “upsetting emotionally, seeing it was at a rape event.”
Critics of the gender-neutral or all-gender bathroom campaign launched by the left for the benefit of “transgender populations and people who exist outside of the gender binary” have voiced similar concerns.
But this time, the criticism is coming from the left, for some of the same reasons conservatives have raised – and for which they have been bashed by liberals.
Erin M. Thornley, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center, acknowledged that RCC and Majestic staff decided to “place paper signs” over two of the theater’s bathrooms, “the one labeled men and the one labeled women.” The signs declared, “GENDER-NEUTRAL RESTROOM ANYONE MAY USE THIS RESTROOM REGARDLESS OF GENDER IDENTITY OR EXPRESSION.”
Another unisex, single-stall toilet bathroom, with a urinal, that could be locked from the inside, also was available to attendees.
Walters wrote to Thornley the next day expressing her dismay.
“Let me get right to it. I was shocked after listening to story after story from women who were raped by men (at the #MeTooMadison event),” she stated in an email. “Then I had to use the bathroom. I found signs on both doors (she included photos). Confused, I opened the door hoping no men were inside. I peed as fast as I could further creating anxiety and trauma. This is a privacy issue for women and men: bathrooms.”
Walters found it “triggering” that half of the audience (her estimate) in attendance at the Rape Crisis Center fundraiser were men, “and further worse to know that the bathrooms were a free-for-all.”
“What kind of policy is that anyway?” Walters wrote. “Why would you think people would feel more comfortable sharing bathrooms (rooms with many stalls)? These are not locking unisex single occupancy bathrooms for either sex (or anyone else). The Majestic is an establishment with alcohol. It is really wrong.”
Thornley, herself a liberal activist, in a follow-up email apologized that “some of the facets” of the #MeeToo event “triggered” any sexual assault experiences and made Walters feel unsafe. She suggested Walters contact the Rape Crisis line should she feel the need to talk to a counselor.
Thornley informed Walters that the center has been working hard to help the public understand that “sexual assault is not a gender-neutral crime – in other words, men, women, children and gender nonconforming individuals are sexually assaulted.”
“This informed our decision about gender-neutral bathrooms,” she wrote. “Doing this allows people who identify as both male and female or is (sic) neither male or female, have a bathroom from which they are not excluded.”
She explained that, while a vast majority of sexual assault perpetrators are men, it is the Rape Crisis Center’s intent to “serve all victims of sexual assault.” It was likely, she added, that some of the men in the audience were sexual assault victims.
“With the #MeToo social media campaign, a lot of men are looking for ways to be supportive of women, especially survivors of sexual assault,” Thornley wrote in her sensitive message to Walters. She said that security was on hand to remove anyone who acted inappropriately or in an unsafe manner.
Walters was not satisfied with Thornley’s response, or her profuse apologies for that matter, although she noted in her complaint that she was seeking an apology. She responded to Thornley’s mea culpa with a series of pointed questions.
“Why set up a predatory space for women and girls to have to use to relieve themselves?” the liberal activist wrote in an email dated Nov. 12. “It is a time when the guard can be taken down, away from the patriarchy and male gaze.”
Male bathroom space also should be respected, Walters added.
She again railed against event coordinators, accusing the Rape Crisis Center of not supporting women. She insisted that the males attending the event were gazing, “seeking pleasure” from hearing stories of sexually abused women.
“The entire time I was traumatized as I realized and witnessed that at the Majestic,” Walters wrote.
Thornley sent a polite response to Walters two days later, apologizing again that the event was difficult for her.
On Dec. 15, a friend of Walters attempted to intervene, advising the Crisis Center director that Walters was preparing to file a complaint. Thornley offered to meet with Walters, but then she eventually cut her losses.
“I decided there was probably little point for me to meet with Mary Jo and there is potential for more harm considering our correspondence and the fact that she is moving forward with the complaint regardless of our discussion,” Thornley wrote in a Dec. 20 email to Walters’ friend, Wendy Schneider, also a liberal activist, director, producer, editor, and producer.
The Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division investigated the complaint. On March 30, the agency concluded there was “no probable cause to believe the Rape Crisis Center, Incorporated, violated the Wisconsin Public Accommodations and Amusements law,” according to initial determination statement obtained by MacIver News Service.
The complaint was dismissed.
While Walters said she was not aware of the bathroom with the lock, the report states that she was able to attend the event and there were bathrooms available for her use, “just like all other individuals of any sex.”
“While the Public Accommodations and Amusements Law allows separate-sex bathrooms, it does not require them,” DWD Equal Rights Officer Eric Fergison wrote.
The report notes that Walters could have simply asked a Majestic staff member about the restroom accommodations. Had she done so she would have learned of the “existence of a single-stall locking bathroom, where none of her concerns applied.”
“A respondent is not liable for a Complainant’s failure to make reasonable inquiries,” Fergison wrote.