U.S. transgender woman's journey turns
into constitutional fight
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[June 17, 2016]
By Daniel Trotta
POTTSVILLE, Pa. (Reuters) - Kate Lynn
Blatt once lived as a woman at home but went to work in a battery
factory as a man, a painful phase in her gender transition that would
later propel her to the forefront of a constitutional battle for
transgender rights in America.
She decided to start over, interviewing as a woman for a new job
with the outdoor equipment and apparel retail chain Cabela's Inc
<CAB.N>, landing it, and finally leaving her life as a male behind.
A 6-year transition, starting from when she graduated high school,
was finally over.
"Oh my God, it was the most liberating thing I've ever experienced
in my entire life," Blatt said in an interview in her hometown of
Pottsville, Pennsylvania, about 90 miles (150 km) northwest of
"And then slam," she said, smacking a fist into her palm. "Employee
Blatt, now 35, is suing Cabela's for sex discrimination, saying she
was subjected to all manner of humiliation by superiors and
co-workers during the six months she worked as a seasonal stocker in
2006 and 2007.
In a preview of the current controversy in the United States over
which bathroom transgender people should use, Blatt claims she was
denied use of the women's room. She was fired, she said, when
Cabela's alleged she threatened a co-worker's child during an
altercation at work, a claim Blatt denies.
Cabela's, through a company spokesman, declined to comment.
The lawsuit, brought by Blatt in 2014, also challenges a
little-known clause in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
(ADA) as discriminatory because it specifically excludes transgender
people from protection.
Cabela's has called on U.S. District Judge Joseph Leeson of the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania to dismiss Blatt's claims under the
ADA. The judge's ruling on that motion, the next step in the case,
could come at any time.
Blatt's lawyers, Neelima Vanguri and Brian Farrell of
Philadelphia-based Sidney L. Gold & Associates, are asking the judge
to rule that the clause of the ADA violates the U.S. Constitution
because it denies equal protection for all under the law.
The ADA was landmark legislation that expanded the rights of
disabled people, but some exceptions were written into the law
following a debate influenced by the late Jesse Helms, a Republican
senator from North Carolina. The law says "disability" shall not
include "transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism,
voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical
impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders."
Judges customarily avoid ruling on constitutional issues, preferring
to settle disputes on narrower grounds. Even so, at a time of
expanding transgender rights in America, the Blatt case directly
challenges what her lawyers consider discrimination codified into
TRANSGENDER IN AMERICA
Blatt knew from her first memories that she was a girl, taking
advantage of every Halloween to dress as a girl and wearing panties
from age 10.
In high school, before making her transition, Blatt only let a few
trusted friends into her life.
"Every person I met as a guy was another person I would have to come
out to as transgender later, so I just avoided it," she said.
For years she lived a dual life, but that became unmanageable. Her
job in the battery factory required employees to shower on the
premises after work because of their exposure to chemicals, and she
was starting to grow breasts from the hormones she was taking, so
she told co-workers she was now Kate. When a co-worker's husband
learned of Blatt's transition and confronted her on the job site,
she left, becoming free to live as Kate full-time.
Blatt, a proud firearms owner, grew up hunting and fishing in rural
Pennsylvania and soon felt at home working for Cabela's, which
specializes in guns, outdoor equipment and apparel.
[to top of second column]
Kate Lynn Blatt, a transgender woman, poses for a portrait at the
15th Annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, United States, June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
The Cabela's where she worked in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, is a
250,000-square-foot (23,000-square-meter) amusement park of a store,
decorated with big-game taxidermy, including an elephant, and an
aquarium. All manner of outdoor shoes and gear are on sale, along
with hundreds of models of guns and stacks of ammunition.
But problems arose immediately. She was told she must use the men's
room. Later she was directed to a gender-neutral restroom where
families can change diapers. She also claims in her suit she was
required to wear a tag calling her by her birth name James, even
after she had legally changed her name and gender with the state of
After Cabela's fired her, Blatt said she gave up on the workplace
and started her own business fixing up old houses.
NO LONGER A DISORDER
Among transgender people, seeking justice for a "disability" is
somewhat controversial. At the time the ADA was passed in 1990,
transgender people were diagnosed with "gender identity disorder,"
which might have been covered under the law if it were not for the
Being transgender today is no longer considered a disorder by the
American Psychiatric Association, but it can give rise to gender
dysphoria, a type of anxiety that may require medical treatment and
thus should also be covered by the ADA, transgender advocates say.
While her case plays out, a transgender rights controversy has
overtaken the United States.
At least 18 states have anti-discrimination laws protecting
transgender people, but officials in more than a dozen states are
suing U.S. President Barack Obama's administration for directing
public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms
and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
Federal appeals courts have generally sided with the White House,
saying its interpretation of civil rights law to protect transgender
people is acceptable, but it could be overturned by a future
In the meantime transgender people, estimated at 0.3 percent of the
population by a 2011 study conducted by Williams Institute at the
University of California, Los Angeles, are fighting their own
"For the larger part of my childhood, I felt alone," Blatt said. "I
had no idea there were other people. There's tens of thousands,
hundreds of thousands of people like me in this country, and I never
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Diane
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