We find it ironic that the controversy over separate women’s swimming time in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn public pool broke even as Americans are grappling with the issue of transgender rights.
In large part, much of the media insist that gender is a state of mind rather than a function of genitalia – to the point that a transgender person must be allowed to use a bathroom appropriate to the gender he/she identifies with rather than one appropriate to the genitalia he/she was born with.
But some of those same folks – in this case the editorial board of The New York Times – find it off-putting and unconstitutional for a municipal authority to provide a far lesser accommodation to Orthodox Jewish women seeking to observe traditional notions of modesty when swimming.
In a March 25 editorial titled “Transgender Law Makes North Carolina Pioneer in Bigotry,” the Times condemned North Carolina for “passing an appalling, unconstitutional bill that bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity….”
A few weeks later, in its April 18 issue, the Times, in an editorial titled “Transgender Bathroom Hysteria, Cont’d.,” described reaction to the North Carolina statute:
After the withering backlash against North Carolina for passing a discriminatory law…it would stand to reason that lawmakers and governors in other states would think twice before peddling bills that dictate which restrooms transgender people can use.
And yet, state legislators in Tennessee, Kansas, South Carolina, and Minnesota are pushing similar absurd measures….
Laws to address non-issues [like the need to restrict transgenders] can have serious repercussions. The hastily passed bill in North Carolina, which said people must use public bathrooms based on the gender on their birth certificate and prohibited local governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances, has been roundly condemned by corporate leaders, civil rights groups, and religious leaders….
If lawmakers who might want to follow North Carolina’s example aren’t moved by appeals to equality and human rights, they should ponder this reality: The price of bigotry is becoming quite steep.
Fast forward five weeks. In late May the New York City Parks Department announced it was going to end a policy of setting aside several hours a week for “women’s swim” at a public pool in Williamsburg. The sessions were instituted about 20 years ago, without much fanfare or incident, as an accommodation to Orthodox Jewish women who, due to their religious beliefs, would not swim together with men.
But someone apparently filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights claiming men were being discriminated against. The commission notified the Parks Department that the swimming arrangement was in violation of anti-discrimination laws and had to be ended. The Parks Department agreed, but after New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind intervened the department withdrew a statement announcing the end of the program and said the future of the women’s swim program would be reviewed.
This, in a June 1 editorial, is what the great advocates of transgender choice on the Times editorial board had to say concerning the Parks Department’s about-face on the Williamsburg pool controversy:
Four times a week this summer – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:15 to 11 a.m., and Sunday afternoons from 2:45 to 4:45 – a public swimming pool on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn will be temporarily unmoored from the laws of New York City and the Constitution, and commonly held principles of fairness and equal access.
The pool will instead answer to the religious convictions of one neighborhood group…. Orthodox Jewish beliefs demand modesty in dress, and a strict separation of the sexes, and those are the beliefs to which the taxpayer-owned-and-operated Metropolitan Recreation Center will yield…. The city’s human rights law is quite clear that public accommodation like a swimming pool cannot exclude people based on sex. It allows for exemptions “based on bon fide considerations of public policy,” but this case –with its strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular place – does not seem bona fide at all. [Italics added]
Tellingly, the Times did not cite a single one legal authority supporting its legal conclusions.
And although no one seems to have protested the women’s swim time for some 20 years, the Times followed up on its offensive allusion – one “redolent of anti-Semitic smears,” as our op-ed contributor Jonathan Tobin puts it on page 8 of this week’s issue – with this dripping bit of angry sarcasm:
[T]he summer sun shines equally on the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, and that plus the New York City humidity make everybody uncomfortable and hot under the collar…. There is no just way to tell a sweaty Brooklynite on a Sunday afternoon that he should be ejected onto Bedford Avenue because one religious group doesn’t want him in the pool…. Let those who cannot abide public, secular rules at a public, secular pool find their own private place to swim when and with whom they see fit.
And all of this says nothing about a glaring omission in the Times’s take on the matter: Although there are many examples around the country of Muslim women being provided with the same accommodation in public pools as the Orthodox women of Williamsburg, the Times completely ignored that in its denunciation of the Williamsburg program.
To be sure, the Times in 2008 reported on a controversy at Harvard over its having set separate gym hours for Muslim women. But it did not editorialize about it.
Nor did it editorialize about the city of Toronto’s various accommodations of Muslim women – but it did carry a giddily positive news report about that program, headlined “In Toronto, a Neighborhood in Despair Transforms Into a Model of Inclusion.” Times reporter Dan Levin wrote:
Her face framed by a yellow hijab, Idil Hassan watched her young daughter splash with other children at the Regent Park Aquatic Center, an architectural jewel of glass, wood and chlorine in the middle of Canada’s largest housing project.
The center has given Ms. Hassan, a 34-year-old nurse, the ability to do something more than just watch her child: she, too, can join in.
On Saturday evenings, mechanized screens shroud the center’s expansive glass walls to create a session that allows only women and girls to relax in the hot tub, swim laps or careen down the water slide, a rare bit of “me” time treasured by many of the neighborhood’s Muslim residents.
“I wouldn’t come before because my religion doesn’t allow women to be seen uncovered by men,” said Ms. Hassan, a Somali immigrant. “It’s really helpful to have that day to be ourselves. I even learned to swim.”
As far as we can tell, only the Orthodox Jewish women of Williamsburg have been targeted by the Times’s editorial writers over this sort of thing.
What is it with the Times and Orthodox Jews?