By Bob Allen
A transgender employee of a Chicago-area Hobby Lobby is suing the Oklahoma City-based craft store chain, claiming discrimination because her employer won’t allow her to use the women’s restroom.
Meggan Sommerville, frame-shop manager at a Hobby Lobby store in Aurora, Ill., was hired in 1998, when she was still living as a man. She wasn’t fired when she transitioned in 2009 or a year later when she legally changed her name.
Sommerville’s lawyers claim her employer changed her personnel file to say she’s female. They call her “Meggan” and refer to her as “she,” but she cannot use the women’s restroom unless she undergoes reconstructive surgery, an expensive and sometimes medically unfeasible process that the State of Illinois didn’t require when Sommerville retroactively changed the gender listed on her birth certificate to female.
Sommerville filed a complaint in April 2011 with the Illinois Department of Human Rights alleging discrimination in employment and discrimination in public accommodation. It was dismissed the following year for lack of evidence, but recently the Civil Rights Agenda, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, helped her win an appeal before the Illinois Human Rights Commission based on public accommodation laws in Illinois that permit individuals to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
Newsweek and Chicago Phoenix, a newspaper that specializes in LGBT issues, featured her story to illustrate why some people worry that a recent Supreme Court decision allowing closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby to refuse for religious reasons to cover contraception in worker insurance plans means they can also discriminate against or fire employees because they are gay.
In addition to her job at Hobby Lobby, Sommerville writes a blog titled Trans Girl at the Cross on ChicagoNow, a blog community, which identifies her “a Christian transgender woman with a heart for educating others about the transgender community and her faith in her Savior, Jesus Christ.”
In her blog Sommerville says her transgender identity has caused problems not only in the workplace but also in church. She says she has been “burned, one way or another, in three different churches over the last four or five years.”
She recently critiqued a Southern Baptist Convention resolution on transgender identity passed at the 2014 SBC annual meeting June 10-11 in Baltimore.
“I grew up in a church that belonged to the SBC, and just reading this resolution and knowing the ramifications this could produce sickens me,” Sommerville said.
Sommerville described the resolution as an “extreme right wing, transphobic, political move” that essentially denies that transgender individuals exist — “an outrageous notion” — and opposes any legislation that would provide protections to transgender community.
She termed the SBC resolution “another brick added to the wall it has already created between itself and a community that needs God as much as any community I know.”
Sommerville says she usually doesn’t try to defend or justify being both a Christian and transgender, because Christians are supposed to welcome one another without judgment.
When she first started writing back in 2012, she spelled out some of her beliefs in a blog post called “The Bible, Being Transgender and Me.” Setting out to write about what the Bible says about being transgender, she said she found few verses that address the subject.
She did identify one verse most that caused her great distress while growing up and is most often used by people who believe being transgender is a sin. Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”
“What many who use this verse against the trans community fail to do is to put this verse into the context of the era in which it was written,” Sommerville wrote. “At the time this book was written, the Israelite people were occupying a land that did not share in their belief of one true God.
“The Canaanites believed in multiple gods and had many rituals surrounding them. One of these rituals required men to dress as one of the goddesses and serve as prostitutes in her temple.
“The prohibition in Deut. 22:5 addresses one of the most visible acts of pagan idol worship of the time. God gave the law to create a separation between the Israelites and the pagan culture of the day.
“By following the law, people of the day could plainly see that the Israelites were different and did not believe in their pagan gods. When you put this verse into context, this law and many others from Deuteronomy have no context in today’s world.”