Outcry follows a teenage girl’s account of seeing someone she believed to
be a naked man in the women’s locker room
Hundreds gathered at Santee’s YMCA Wednesday evening to oppose the
facility’s policies for transgender members, after a teenage girl’s
account of seeing someone she believed to be a naked man in the women’s
locker room gained national attention.
Dozens of counterprotesters waving rainbow flags also danced at the
opposite end of a field, and a few scuffles broke out among a small group
in the middle.
Law enforcement was not visible during the height of the tension when
several people screamed profanities and shoved each other, but the later
arrival of about two dozen sheriff’s deputies armed with shields, helmets
and long batons largely cleared the area.
The YMCA had closed early because of the protests.
Wednesday’s event comes as conservative politicians and activists
nationwide have increasingly pushed back against LGBTQ rights. A YMCA in
Washington state reportedly closed for a time over the issue, and more
than a year ago a transgender woman sued and won a settlement against an
El Cajon gym that had denied her access to the women’s locker room.
Santee’s controversy started with a brief story shared at a sparsely
attended council meeting.
On Jan. 11, Rebecca Philips told leaders that she’d recently been
showering at the Cameron Family YMCA when she spotted a “naked male in the
women’s locker room.” The 17-year-old said she was “terrified” and hid.
The YMCA’s management later told her the person was transgender and
allowed to use the women’s locker room, Philips said. YMCA officials told
her she was not in any danger. “I was made to feel as though I had done
something wrong,” she told the council.
The story was picked up by several conservative-leaning national outlets,
including the New York Post and Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Schools in the
area have since halted field trips to the facility until “district staff”
can “work with YMCA leadership to review policies and procedures,”
according to a statement sent by the Santee School District Board of
A local group called Santee Parents 4 Choice helped organize the event
outside the YMCA Wednesday.
Several speakers, including some East County elected leaders, stood on a
stage to decry the YMCA’s policy as an affront to residents’ safety and
“You can just go in a woman’s locker room and expose yourself and it’s
legal?” said El Cajon Councilmember Phil Ortiz. “You just say the magic
word, ‘I am a woman,’ and it’s legal? That is an act of lunacy.”
California law requires “all business establishments” to offer “full and
equal accommodations” to everyone regardless of their sex, which includes
At least 300 people cheered calls to sue the YMCA and flood their
political representatives with demands for reform. A pastor with Foothills
Christian Church prayed that YMCA leaders would have a change of heart.
In a statement, the YMCA of San Diego County’s CEO emphasized the
organization’s commitment to inclusion while noting that state statute
requires people have access to bathrooms in line with their gender
Todd Tibbits did say they would review locker room floor plans at all
“Our priority is that everyone is welcome and safe at our Y and we will
work to ensure our privacy measures reflect that,” Tibbits said. “We
understand that the minor involved felt hurt and frustrated, and we
wholeheartedly apologize for not providing her with the level of support
He added that there are private and gender-neutral spaces already
Far from the main crowd were more than 50 counterprotesters, many of whom
danced to the song “YMCA” and chanted slogans in support of the LGBTQ
community. Many wore shirts with the logo for the Party for Socialism and
Liberation, or PSL, a national political organization.
The goal was to make a lot of noise in “support of the trans woman, who is
the victim,” said Justine Mann, a PSL organizer from Hillcrest. “I hope
that she and other trans people who are home — because they’re too scared
to come out because of the threat of violence — will see people in their
community standing up for them.”
Dozens of transgender people were violently killed last year, according to
the Human Rights Campaign.
The two sides generally stood far from each other in the field, but during
the event more than a dozen people clustered in the middle to yell in each
other’s faces. They did not appear to be with the principal organizers for
the protesters or counterprotesters.
Many wore face masks and expletive-laden shouts from opposing camps
sometimes drowned out the main speakers. A shoving match briefly broke
out, and two men circled each other, fists raised, but no punches appeared
to be thrown.
It was not immediately clear why law enforcement was not closer, and a
request for comment from an on-scene media liaison was not immediately
Earlier in the day, Capt. Michael McNeill, head of Santee’s sheriff’s
station, said they would have “personnel and planning in place to ensure
the safety and protection of the public, as well as to ensure the
Constitutional freedoms of all attendees.”
Another speaker was Santee Vice Mayor Laura Koval.
In an interview, Koval said the YMCA should consider replacing its open
locker rooms with individual stalls so nobody has to change clothes in
front of others. Since that would likely be expensive, she said the city
would need to help brainstorm ways to raise funds.
Some women can feel unsafe around men they don’t know in public places,
Koval said, adding there was not necessarily a way for that teen girl to
have known that the person across from her was transgender.
Fernando López, executive director for San Diego LGBT Pride, said over the
phone that it was a mistake to conflate the “legitimate” fear women have
of “predatory heterosexual men” with the transgender community.
Instead of having a national conversation about the way those men hurt
women, some “right-wing extremists” were taking incidents like these to
demonize — and ultimately threaten — the LGBTQ community, they said.
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