June 21, 2016 at 12:32 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Head Ocean City lifeguard apologizes over trans locker room flap

Ocean City, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Ocean City, Md. (Photo by Notyourbroom; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The head of the Ocean City, Md., beach patrol apologized last week after news surfaced that he sent a June 12 email to more than 80 beach employees instructing them to use the locker room “that corresponds to your DNA.”

Capt. Butch Arbin, who has been a lifeguard in the popular beach resort for 40 years, told his beach patrol staff in a follow-up email that his first email was aimed at non-transgender male employees, including lifeguards, who were using the women’s locker room because the male locker room was overcrowded.

Although people familiar with the beach patrol say no problems have surfaced involving trans employees, at least some employees were offended by Arbin’s comments in his initial email on June 12, according to an employee who asked not to be identified.

“We are NOT Target,” Arbin wrote in his email, in a reference to the widely publicized policy of Target stores that allow employees and customers to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

“USE the locker room that corresponds to your DNA,” Arbin continued in his email, a copy of which the Washington Blade obtained from someone who received it from Arbin. “IN plain words, Males use the Men’s locker room ONLY! Females use the Women’s locker room ONLY!” the email states.

“If you’re NOT SURE go to Target.”

Patrick Paschall, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Free State Legal-Equality Maryland, said that although Arbin didn’t specifically use the word transgender, his message came across as offense and demeaning to trans people.

Arbin issued his apology after several local and state news media outlets received his email presumably from one or more employees who were troubled over it.

The apology also came after a spokesperson for the Ocean City government issued a statement criticizing his email message.

“We are disappointed with his actions and in no way do his comments represent the town of Ocean City or the official city policy,” said Jessica Waters, the city’s communications manager.

“While I cannot discuss personnel matters in detail, I can assure you that we take this matter seriously and the situation will be addressed administratively,” she said, suggesting that Arbin could face disciplinary action.

In the first of two emails expressing regret for his initial email, Arbin stated on June 14 that he used “humor” to make his point about restricting use of employee locker rooms to the appropriate gender.

“The males that have used the women’s locker room are not using out of necessity or because they are identifying as a woman,” he said. “[T]hey are using it out of convenience and this was not the purpose in establishing two separate locker rooms in our new headquarters.”

Arbin added: “I was ONLY looking out for the women of the patrol and was not attempting to put down any group or individual, only [to] maintain a nice facility for the women who choose to use a gender specific facility,” he said.

In a follow-up email that same day, Arbin said, “My careless attempt at humor was inappropriate and in poor taste. I hope you will accept this heartfelt apology and allow us to move forward, with a positive and more tolerant attitude for each other, our colleagues, our residents and our guests.”

City officials noted that the Ocean City policy toward trans people is consistent with Maryland’s recently enacted state law that bans discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

“Fortunately, we’re really glad to hear that the city of Ocean City acted quickly and appropriately,” Paschall told the Blade this week.

“They clarified that their policy is not the policy he stated and that they in fact follow the state’s law regarding shower and locker room access for employees,” he said. “They called his comments inappropriate and they said publicly that they were going to take appropriate action to reprimand him.”

Paschall said his group is recommending that the city require Arbin and other employees to undergo training on how to comply with state law regarding trans employees and how to “interact with the transgender community in ways that are instructive and inclusive.”

Although Free State Legal-Equality Maryland is pleased with Ocean City’s response, Paschall said he was troubled over a June 17 editorial published by Ocean City Today, a local newspaper, which argued that critics were overreacting to Arbin’s email.

Noting that during Arbin’s distinguished 40-year tenure as a lifeguard and 20 years as head of the Ocean City Beach Patrol he has helped to save lives without questioning the political beliefs or personal characteristics of people who were drowning.

“Did Arbin step over the line, as has been said?” the editorial asks. “Not really. He is just as much a victim of society as the people who took offense at what he wrote. The politicians can feign their usual disapproval and critics can hike miles to find the trouble they seek to correct, but it appears we have reached the point where our concern with insensitivity has cost us our perspective,” the editorial concludes.

“For me, the type of editorial that sort of riles up constituents in a community to claim that we’re going overboard by requiring that a city employee not make fun of transgender people in the workplace is part of the culture that makes some places really scary for the LGBT community today,” Paschall said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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