LEWISTON, Maine — Brianna Freeman, a transgender woman who lived the first four decades of her life as a man, said she knows firsthand about the pain caused by discrimination.
And when management at an Auburn Denny’s restaurant wouldn’t allow her to use the women’s restroom until she had sex reassignment surgery, she felt compelled to file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
“I understand the safety concerns, but not in a case like mine, or for people like me,” Freeman, 44, said Thursday in a telephone interview.
“We don’t want any problems for anyone else,” she said. “We just want to live the lives we feel we should be living.”
The Maine Human Rights Commission decided May 20 in Freeman’s favor, saying that Freeman was discriminated against after a 2007 incident when she used a locked stall in the women’s restroom while dressed as a woman, according to the investigator’s report. Another customer complained to management, which decided to disallow Freeman from using the women’s restroom until she had completed surgery.
“Denny’s is a family restaurant chain,” Kevin LaBree, the vice president and director of operations for Realty Resources Hospitality, told the Bangor Daily News earlier this month. “I am going to do what’s in the best interest of my customers.”
But Freeman said that she’s a customer, too.
“Of the thousands of people who go through this place every day, only one person complained to the management,” she said. “I go to a lot of other places and I’m accepted as a female. It makes me feel more complete.”
She said that safety, too, was a very real concern of hers. She knows a cross-dressing man who was attacked while inside a public men’s restroom, and that’s a worry.
“It’s even more of a dangerous situation,” she said. “I’m being put at more of a risk.”
Maine driver’s licenses now have identification categories of male and female, but why not add a third category — T for transgender, Freeman suggested. That way restaurants wouldn’t have to wonder whether, for example, a biological man who wants to use the women’s restroom has licit or illicit purposes in mind.
“This law doesn’t give a blanket right to every person out there to don the clothes of the opposite sex and just check people out,” Freeman said.
Angel Loredo, the associate dean of students at the University of Maine, said the campus has made efforts to create more single-stalled, gender-neutral restrooms for transgender students.
“We have really tried to help and be on track with opening doors to individuals as they come to campus,” Loredo said. “I think that in an educational institution, it’s important that students have the opportunity to express what they feel … We’ve been accommodating to them, so that this would not be a hindrance to their educational endeavors.”
Freeman said that her case might help people to understand more about transgender people.
“Right now, I’m living in a community that’s very adverse to diversity,” she said. “There are some people who know me and are cool with it, but I have to protect myself.”
A long journey
Brianna Freeman, who was raised as Bruce Freeman in Presque Isle, said she has been working hard to make her life feel more, not less, safe.
“I’ve worked hard to come as far as I have,” she said.
She said she spent 40 years as a man, essentially trying to please her traditional parents, and making them proud of her. In 2001 her “life came crumbling down.”
The traumatic events of Sept. 11 hit her hard, and other tough times ensued. By 2003 Freeman, who still was known as Bruce, had become homeless, had split up with a girlfriend, and was hitting bottom.
“I thought about taking my own life. What are people worth, when they have nothing?” she asked.
But she had resources — people who cared about her and made her feel worthwhile. She started the first phase of her quest to become a woman in January 2004. That first phase was a discovery period when Freeman worked on who she was, and what help might be available to her. The second phase involves living the role of the opposite sex, Freeman said, and that is where she is now.
She has spent a year and a half in hormone treatment, and her next step is laser hair removal. When asked whether she would get gender reassignment surgery, she said yes, unequivocally.
“Surgery is in the works,” she said.
Recently, Freeman has been keeping busy with the activities of her new life. She started playing competitive pool in 2006, and has been helping other people who are dealing with gender identity disorder.
“No one should have to go through this alone,” she said. “It’s very taxing on the psyche. I’m fighting back. I’m getting the help I need.”