About the Fitting Rooms at Macy’s

19 Dec

On November 30th, a trans woman was shopping for clothing in a Macy’s in San Antonio,Texas. She had exited the women’s fitting room and was about to reenter when she was stopped by a Macy’s employee and told that since she was a man, she would have to use the men’s fitting room. It turns out that Macy’s has a pretty amazing LGBT policy, which states that trans people can change in the fitting room of the gender they identify with. The trans woman and her friends were aware of this policy, and brought it up, but the employee, Natalie Johnson, refused to comply with the policy. This refusal led to Johnson being fired by Macy’s.

Natalie Johnson has now filed a complaint with the Federal Employment Commission, claiming that Macy’s decision to fire her violated her religious freedom. According to Johnson’s religious beliefs, transgendered people do not exist. In an interview with KSAT, an ABC News affiliate, Johnson said, “There are no transgenders in the world. A guy can dress up as a woman all he wants. That’s still not going to make you a woman .”

Johnson contacted Liberty Counsel, who agreed to take her case. Liberty Counsel “is an international nonprofit dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and family.” On its website, Liberty Counsel points out that it “does not limit its services to Christians, as the rights of Christians are affected positively by defending the rights of others.” Unless you’re transgendered, apparently.

In Liberty Counsel’s press release about the incident, they describe the trans woman as “wearing make-up and girl’s clothing, but clearly he was a male.” Even better, they go on to say that “Macy’s has essentially opened women’s dressing rooms to every man,” and that “the LGBT agenda has become the theater of the absurd.” Liberty Counsel is implying that all sorts of sicko male perverts are going to slap on some make-up and then run to Macy’s to prey on the innocent and helpless females in the dressing room.

What Liberty Counsel implies, others are only too happy to spell out. For instance, one blogger, Steven Greydanus, wrote, “What does seem to be clear is that Macy’s and its affiliate Bloomingdale’s would apparently rather cater to the antisocial demands of a tiny percentage of the population than make the vast majority of its customers comfortable. I can’t imagine that many women would appreciate bumping into a man in drag in the corridor of the women’s dressing rooms. Assuming he’s even in drag—after all, women can wear pretty much anything men can wear. What’s to stop a guy in jeans and a T-shirt from barging into the women’s dressing rooms, declaring himself a woman?”

His commenters take it further –

“These folks aren’t interested in equality. Their [sic] want inequality of the type exhibited in this story. They want to be more equal than others.” – David B.

(Just let that sink in for a second…)

“Macy’s operates in America which is a Christian country—and Christianity is the largest organization in the world – why would they want to alienate those shoppers?…For those who may disagree – remember, there is only one truth – it’s either right or wrong and it is the duty of the individual to seek truth and live it courageously.” – Anonymous

“Everyone wants to do something they shouldn’t – some things, like cross dressing, are just sometimes more obvious than, for example, eating an entire chocolate cake.” – Valerie

Another commenter, Kelly, called Macy’s “an anti american homo shop.”

The idea that transgendered people are just “cross dressers” looking for women to harass seems prevalent, as is the idea that this is just another case of “homosexuals” wanting more than they deserve. What fascinates and horrifies me about these comments (and, indeed, about the whole case) is that these people don’t know anything about transgendered people, and they don’t care to know. These people can’t decide whether trans women are just gay men who like to put on women’s clothing, for reasons unexplained, or whether they’re straight men who are putting on women’s clothing to be perverse, and to prey on women. And trans men might as well not exist!

These people, the ones who side with Natalie Johnson, whether they believe that transgendered people exist or not – they want to limit the entire human race to their very narrow and rather misinformed view of the world. This, to me, is unconscionable. Their outright refusal to live harmoniously with people who are in any way different from them is scary. To prove my point: Natalie Johnson doesn’t just want her job back. She also wants Macy’s policies changed to fit her religious viewpoint.

Since 2007, Macy’s has received a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign because of their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And they aren’t backing down now. Jim Sluzewski, Macy’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and External Affairs, released the following statement:

“Macy’s is very proud of our philosophy of diversity and inclusion, and we welcome all customers into our stores. This includes customers of all races, ethnicities, ages, genders, faith traditions, countries of origins and lifestyle preferences. We strive to ensure that each customer is able to shop in a discrimination-free environment.”

Which means, Natalie Johnson, that you don’t get to discriminate against Macy’s customers. Even under the dubious guise of “religious freedom.”


24 Responses to “About the Fitting Rooms at Macy’s”

  1. Veronica K. B. December 19, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    I’m always baffled by people who think a right to discriminate and harass other people falls under the right of freedom of religion. That is about as navel-gazing and illogical as it is possible to be. She got fired for harassing a customer. End of story. If she can’t hold the job due to her religious beliefs, get another one. Or even better, start behaving like a decent human being and acknowledge other people’s right to live their lives their way and not her way.

    • slpierce December 19, 2011 at 11:31 am #

      Exactly! The hypocritical meanness of a “Christian” feeling that it’s her right to discriminate based on her beliefs definitely got to me.

  2. Natalie December 19, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    There has never, ever, EVER been an instance of a man disguising himself as a trans woman, or claiming to be a trans woman, for the purposes of gaining access to women’s spaces for voyeurism or sexual assault.

    If what these people are worried about is voyeurism, rape, child molestation, whatever, THAT is what they should be targeting. Erect policies about THAT. And punish people who commit those crimes. Don’t punish innocent trans people whose only crime was to seek the same basic level of privacy, comfort and security while trying on clothes or having a pee that these Christians seem so terrified of losing.

  3. Natalie December 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    P.S. Also bothered by how much of the rhetoric is built around her being “clearly a male”. Is passability to be the basis of who gets treated with respect? What happens to cis women who don’t fit well enough into your expectations for what a woman is supposed to look like? Are we to submit to genital inspection at the door? That would certainly ensure a sense of privacy, wouldn’t it!

  4. Paul Wiklund December 20, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    I guess the biggest problem that I have with all of this is the ever recurring idea that those who choose to live a “Christian” lifestyle cannot possibly do so without forcibly subjecting others to their opinions.

    If you want to be Christian, great. Do so. But don’t try and force others to conform to your “values”. It’s simply bigotry and prejudice.

  5. Theo Bromine December 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Funny, the vast majority of the stores I shop at have unisex fitting rooms – single rooms opening out into the main area. But in stores like Macy’s I’m assuming that their dressing rooms are arranged as corridors with closable cubicles off of them? If so, just what is the threat to women? That someone would peak through the crack in the door? Or are women walking the hallways in various states of undress?

    I wonder if the bigotted woman who filed the complaint also considers it unseemly (if not immoral) for women to wear pants.

    • julian December 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

      I wonder if the bigotted woman who filed the complaint also considers it unseemly (if not immoral) for women to wear pants. -Theo Bromine

      I was having it out with a coworker who (after I’d corrected him on just about every aspect of this story) insisted that this was a man dressed like a man so he shouldn’t have been allowed around women.

      When I tried to press him on what exactly men’s clothing entailed he looked at me as if I were n idiot. To him women wore dresses and nothing else. Those that didn’t (who wore jeans and T) were unfeminine and everyone knew that.

      I called the argument a win for me as that’s really all he had. Never mind company policy, nevermind how he really had no reason to feel offended or threatened. Women wore dresses and the very idea of transitioning was ugh therefore Christianity is under siege.

    • Ibbs December 21, 2011 at 10:02 am #

      I have to laugh when I hear folks complaining about this sort of thing. I recently moved to Europe where the shops also have mostly unisex changing rooms… with stalls that are typically closed by curtains, not even solid doors! Never had a problem. I mean, why would you? What on earth could possibly happen? (By which I mean: “what could happen that would be caused or aggravated by having such a setup, rather than separate rooms”.)

      Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I take my top off to try on a top and my bottoms off to try on a bottom… I don’t strip naked! (Hygiene, anyone?) What sort of undergarments are you wearing (or not wearing?) that it would be so terrible if someone caught a glimpse? Do you really have such a low view of humanity that you think everyone (sorry, not everyone, just men I suppose…) is a lecherous ogler who will creepy-peep at you? Or that no-one would do anything about it if someone did try such a thing?

      I have to assume Johnson doesn’t ever go swimming…

      • julian December 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

        Or that no-one would do anything about it if someone did try such a thing?

        fyi, people have a really bad track record with stopping sexual assault and harassment.

        Actually that should be crimes in general (so long as they fall short of murder. then we tend to scatter.) You won’t go bust underestimating the number of people who’d help you if someone were pinching you on the subway in plain sight.

  6. L.Long December 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    If this sort of thing bothers the xtians (american flavor only) then please stay overnight in a hostel. When I did so the sleepy area and THE BATHROOMS were common to both sexes. An WOW!! no one reported being raped or disrespected.

    The clothes thing is totally stupid!!! Most xtians don’t even know what that prohibition is about!! and it ain’t about who wears the pants. Its about not wearing the clothes the woman was just wearing because if you did you might get contaminated with menstrual discharges which as we all know will weaken a man and condemn him….superstitious maroons!!!!

  7. Angela D December 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    I like Macy’s a little more now. It’s refreshing to see a corporation doing the right thing.

  8. Bonnie Toney January 3, 2012 at 12:14 am #

    Without getting into a flame war, I would like to state that not all Christians are bigots, but the minority who act that way get pushed into the spotlight. I would also like to state that there does seem to be an anti-Christian bias in some of the comments above; “you can believe anything you like, as long as it’s not *that*!”

    I am a Christian, and while I do not approve of Ms. Johnson’s actions as depicted above (for one thing, she was going against her employer’s stated policy, which was surely explained to her before she took the job; if she disagreed, she should have turned down the job), I was also not in the dressing room area in question, so I’m not going to get into a discussion about it.

    • Theo Bromine January 3, 2012 at 11:17 am #


      Johnson explicitly said that her attitudes and actions were based on her Christian faith (as did many of the commenters who supported her). Furthermore, she and her supporters claim that Macy’s policies of providing *basic human rights* to transgendered people was an infringement on their freedom of religion.

      In my experience, when a Christian declares support for LGBT people, it will be, for the most part appreciated. (I say this as a former Christian who participated in the campaign for legalizing same-sex marriage in Canada.) So, if you want atheists and skeptics to take you seriously and see you as an ally, might I suggest you take the positive approach of clearly voicing your support for LGBT rights, and distancing yourself from those who use their faith to justify their bigotry (as opposed to popping in to complain about “anti-Christian bias”, while saying that you are not interested in discussing the actual issue at hand).

  9. slpierce January 3, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Hi there, Bonnie.

    I actually think that most of the commenters were pretty respectful about not painting all Christians with the same brush. I do find it odd that you found your way to a skeptical blog (with a definite atheist/agnostic slant) and complained about how all Christianity is treated, based on our discussion of one “Christian” (I used quotes both above and here because I don’t find her behavior very Christian) and her supporters.

    Also, re: your not getting into a discussion about it – I discuss by nature. I don’t think that prejudice can be eradicated unless it is brought to light and examined. Whether we were there to witness it or not.

  10. Elaine June 23, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    I’m not comfortable with a man being in the dressing rooms with me. I would feel uncomfortable. Half the time the slats on the door face the wrong way and you can see completely in. I don’t think that my modesty is a bad thing or an “issue” that I need to work on. I am perfectly comfortable in front of my husband, but I don’t get nude in front of other men. I don’t judge other countries like Norway for doing it – say, the saunas – and love learning about different ways to approach life. That doesn’t change the way that most men in my country sexualize boobs, for example, or my personal modesty. From what I know about people who identify as transgendered, however, many of them are attracted to and fall in love with women. I would not feel comfortable with either he/she or a heterosexual non-transgendered man being in the dressing room. If I saw a man in the dressing rooms I would leave and Macy’s would not get my purchase.

    Obviously there are enough people who agree with you (including all of the other commenters) to justify Macy’s taking the majority opinion on this and allowing transgendered people.

    I think that sometimes our focus on one individual’s experience goes too far in that we forget to take into account the rest of the public. I know that a transgendered man (at least in this case) might want to dress in the women’s room. That doesn’t mean that he has to do it in order to have a nice day. I think that it depends on what percentage of people are uncomfortable, which also depends I’m sure on the City, State/Province, and country (i.e., the hostel unisex bathrooms).

    Anyway, I just wanted to chime in from the other side of the debate.

    • Elaine June 23, 2012 at 1:50 am #

      To clarify “If I saw a man in the dressing rooms I would leave and Macy’s would not get my purchase,” this is not on moral terms but because I would be uncomfortable. Also, Macy’s has always “allowed transgendered people” to change in the dressing rooms. This is just an issue of which one and whether the individual person’s preference should trump or be subservient to the modesty of the women in the dressing room.

      • slpierce June 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

        Again, one could take the “individual person’s preference” argument and turn it back on you. Why should YOUR beliefs about and resistance to transgender people changing in your changing room trump their rights to change in the rooms of their choosing? And yes, I said RIGHTS.

    • Theo Bromine June 23, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

      Elaine: If your concern is about exposing yourself to those who might find you sexually attractive, why are you limiting your objection to “a man being in the dressing rooms”. Would you have the same level of discomfort at having a bisexual or lesbian woman in the dressing rooms? What about a homosexual man? What if the person who appears to you to be a man is actually a trans woman? Would you force her to go to the men’s dressing room because *you* regard her as a man?

      (The unisex changerooms I was referring to upthread and last year are set up as individual rooms opening out to the main area of the store, and I’m in Canada, not Europe)

    • slpierce June 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Elaine, I find it interesting that you keep saying I believe, I feel, I, I, I. And then you turn around and say:
      “I think that sometimes our focus on one individual’s experience goes too far in that we forget to take into account the rest of the public.”

      Well, it sounds to me like you don’t understand transgender women at all. They are not men. They identify as women – as Theo said, what about lesbians? Are lesbians to be barred from female changing rooms because of your modesty.

      You also say, “I know that a transgendered man (at least in this case) might want to dress in the women’s room. That doesn’t mean that he has to do it in order to have a nice day.”

      How would you know?

      • Elaine June 24, 2012 at 12:58 am #

        I was using the word “I, I, I” because that is what is generally recommended in good communication. I also thought that it would be interesting to share my perspective since I didn’t see it reflected anywhere in the comments.

        I think that you ask some good questions, and this in part comes down to whether you believe that there is any value in modesty in a culture. I am not religious, but I do believe that there is value there. I understand that for some people, that is laughable. I completely disagree. It also comes down to whether you prioritize the preference of the transgendered person or the other women in the dressing room who are not comfortable. I don’t see these as black-and-white issues, hence I doubt that we could someone come to a mutual agreement.

        I do not believe that it is a “RIGHT” to go into a private business and use whichever changing room you want. It is up to the store, which is going to base their decision either on the owners’/advisors’ personal opinion; legal ramifications; or the perceived preferences of other customers. I completely understand if a store decides to allow this. However, I am not comfortable with it. In some places, I may represent the minority. In other cases, the majority.

        • Elaine June 24, 2012 at 1:02 am #

          By black and white, I mean that I don’t believe that there is some universal truth out there about how best to approach this issue. It comes down to personal values and opinions. And the reason that I “know” that a transgendered person doesn’t have to go into the dressing room of his choice to be happy is based on my personal perspective on happiness. I should have said “I believe.” We are constantly making judgements about the world and I have opinions about people’s happiness and what control they have over it based on their perceptions. You could make the same argument that I could change my perception of being uncomfortable. However we disagree on which is more important and probably on larger societal issues too.

          • Theo Bromine June 25, 2012 at 10:51 am #

            Elaine: You say that it is not a “RIGHT” for a person to “go into a private business and use whichever changing room you want”. A trans woman (who might look like a man to you) is not just using whatever changeroom she wants, she is using the women’s room because she is a woman. You have not addressed the question of how Macy’s is supposed to decide *who* is allowed to use the women’s dressing rooms. Neither you nor the Macy’s staff can tell for certain by looking at a person whether he is a man or she is a woman (cis *or* trans). As for your modesty argument, in order to justify this, you also need to address the question about how your discomfort applies to having gay men or lesbian/bisexual women allowed in the dressing room.

            I’m not accusing Elaine of this, but what if a person were uncomfortable with having to use a dressing room which permitted people who “looked Jewish” or “looked African-American”? Though this sort of thing was common in living memory, most people these days would say that it is be a violation of basic human rights for a business to be allowed to provide separate dressing rooms to alleviate such discomfort.

            I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone is required to change their “perception of being uncomfortable”. Lots of things in this world can make a person feel uncomfortable, but the point is that the desire of one person to not feel discomfort cannot be allowed to trump the basic human rights of another person.

  11. Theo Bromine June 24, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Also, Macy’s has always “allowed transgendered people” to change in the dressing rooms. This is just an issue of which one

    Elaine: How would you suggest determining “which one”? If a trans woman looks insufficiently feminine would you have her sent to the men’s dressing room to try on the clothing she is purchasing in the women’s department to avoid the discomfort it would cause *you* to have her in the women’s dressing room because she looks like a man to you? What about a cis woman who looks insufficiently feminine? How on earth would you (or Macy’s) decide the criteria for being “sufficiently feminine” to use the women’s dressing room? If someone is snooping about the dressing rooms, peering through the slats, it does not matter whether they are apparently male or apparently female, their behaviour is inappropriate. Pretty much every store I know of keeps a close eye on what is going on in dressing room areas as part of their theft prevention procedures – if they see people who appear to be hanging around and/or doing things other than just trying on clothes you can bet they will be dealt with quickly.


  1. The Real Cookie Monsters « We Are SkeptiXX - January 13, 2012

    […] put her up to this, is either completely ignorant of what it is to be transgender – much like the woman who got fired for kicking a transgender woman out of a dressing room at Macy’s – or she is wilfully ignoring their rights in order to maintain bigoted views based in […]

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