MARION, IL—Individuals and LGBTQA+* groups in the tri-state area have expressed concern and outrage after Little Egypt Veterinary Clinic in Marion, IL, posted a sign in early September reading “Kennedy put a man on the moon. Obama put a man in the ladies’ room.”
Awareness of the transphobic sign spread quickly through social media, and in the past week, 195 people have given the veterinary clinic a rating of one star on their Facebook page—the lowest possible rating.
Comments on the veterinary clinic’s Facebook page include identifying the sign as “hateful,” “very very offensive” and “disgusting, classless, and disrespectful.”
Some responded in support of the sign and in defense of Dr. Parker’s right to free speech and personal autonomy. Comments included
“We support you and the great care you give animals…I personally applaud you” and “I strongly believe in freedom of speech…”
A few understood the sign differently, calling it “anti-Obama” or “Obama-phobic.”
Still others expressed concerns about personal safety at a place that uses its marquee to “advertise” transphobia. One reviewer said, “I would never feel safe bringing my animals, or recommending friends to take their animals to someone like this.”
Five commenters connected transphobic language to the high suicide rate among transgender people. One person cited a Huffington Post article, which explains that roughly 40% of trans people will attempt suicide at some point in their life and that a variety of factors increase the chance that an individual will commit suicide. According to an article published in the journal Behavioral Medicine, one factor that heightens the risk of suicide among transgender individuals is exposure to “structural stigma” and internalization of transphobic messages, such as the statement displayed at the Little Egypt Veterinary Clinic.
The controversy is a local manifestation of a nationwide debate over transgender rights in schools and workplaces. In March of this year, North Carolina legislators passed a law forcing transgendered people to use bathrooms that correspond to their biological sex, not their gender identity. In May, the Obama administration issued federal guidelines to schools nationwide allowing students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. Although the guidelines are not laws, they do carry the threat that schools that fail to follow them may face the loss of federal funding. In August, a federal judge granted an injunction blocking the Obama administration from enforcing those guidelines.
Two individuals from the LGBTQA+ community, Alexander Socorro and Julie Socorro, scheduled an interview with veterinarian Dr. Parker “to find out the motivation and intent behind the message” and to share their views and experiences.
In a post-interview live video on Facebook, Julie explained that Dr. Parker “declined any kind of video or recording devices” during the interview itself.
Alexander said that during the interview, Dr. Parker seemed not to “understand the gravity” of the sign or “understand what it means to be transgender…his vision is a completely post-op transgender woman who has been on hormones for I don’t know how long.”
Julie explained one of Dr. Parker’s concerns. “They have children that are of the female gender, and they don’t want a man in the restroom with their daughters.” She added, “They aren’t separating a transgender individual from a creep.”
The two were pleased to have a “respectful dialog” with Dr. Parker and thought they had been “as informative as possible” on transgender issues and violence.
However, Alexander said, “whether or not he’s taking something away from it, I can’t say...I was hoping for a more receptive and positive outcome, and I just feel like there was some tolerance and no acceptance,” and Julie noted, “It was kind of hard to sit there…a little unnerving. He wants to agree to disagree, and what can you do?”
In reflecting on the ubiquitous harassment toward the LGBTQA+ community, Alexander said, “If you see wrong, you have to say something because if you don’t, someone else is going to pay for it, somebody who can’t stand up or is afraid.”
Julie encourages people to “spread education. Hope that at least one person will pick up out of five. That’s one person’s mind you change.”
“If more people would get involved with community outreach and youth programs and all that kind of stuff,” said Alexander, “kids who are struggling…would at least know that there are groups of people that can support them.”
In closing, Alexander said they “hope that the people who don’t share our position or our beliefs can realize that we can at least exist together without creating a violent atmosphere,” and encouraged people to “spread love not hate.”
*Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, asexual and other orientations such as pansexual