A Privates Matter
Rebecca Kastl wraps her long fingers around a coffee mug and lifts a latte to her lips. The steaming brew fogs her glasses, for a moment obscuring her sky-blue eyes.
Kastl, 34, is articulate and bookish, but she's no geek. Currently working as a network engineer, she is serenely confident when expressing her intellect yet prone to blush when things get a little personal. But make no mistake, it's not embarrassment that colors her cheeks when asked what lies between her legs. It's a tempered show of outrage.
Whether or not she has a penis, she argues, is nobody's business. And asking her to prove that she doesn't have one, she adds, is a violation of her rights. But everyone to whom she's appealed from the ACLU to her former employers at Estrella Mountain Community College sees things differently.
What Kastl has under her skirt was the burning question last fall, when officials at EMCC demanded proof that she had female genitalia before allowing her to use the women's room on school property.
Kastl is a transitioning male-to-female transsexual, one of two such transgender faculty members at EMCC. While she says the other faculty member is open about her post-operative status, Kastl would rather not comment on the state of her own genitalia, a position that inspired a short-lived standoff with EMCC administration.
Formerly known as Steven, Kastl officially changed her name to Rebecca and her gender to female in March 2001. A letter from her therapist and physician was enough to convince the State of Arizona to change the M to an F on her driver's license, and Kastl argues that what's good enough for the state should also be good enough for the county-run college. And at first, Kastl says, it was. "They were originally quite supportive," she notes.
Kastl was hired as a male in August 2000 and taught two classes the following spring. One class began before Steve transitioned to Rebecca; the other began after, so she taught one class as a man and the other as a woman. "It was a really confusing time," she admits. "On Tuesdays I was Steve; on Saturdays I was Rebecca." At the end of the semester, one of her students recognized that both teachers were the same person and approached her. "'This must be really difficult for you,' she said," Kastl recollects. "'Yeah, kind of,' I answered. She told me they all thought I was just a transvestite with an identity crisis and were really happy when I explained I was transgender."
But if her students seemed to understand, her bosses weren't so accommodating. On October 5, 2001, she was contacted by her department's supervisor and informed that the Maricopa County Community College District had decided that unless Kastl and another transgendered faculty member could prove they had undergone sex reassignment surgery, they would have to use the men's room. Kastl was outraged and, the following day, wrote Dean Brian Tippett an e-mail message explaining that, "As a matter of principle, personal dignity, and my fundamental civil rights, I cannot and will not abide by this decision."
In her complaint to Dean Tippett, Kastl argued that EMCC's demand to view her genitals violated her constitutional freedom from unreasonable search and her right to equal protection under the law.
"1. The school has no definitive evidence to determine my genital/surgical status . . ." she wrote. "Requiring me to disclose such information, or requiring me to submit to some means to authenticate any claims regarding my surgical status are a violation of my 4th Amendment rights, constituting an unreasonable search . . . 2. . . .Requiring me to define my genital/surgical status violates my 14th Amendment rights by unequally applying requirements to myself which other faculty members are not required to abide by."
Kastl's claims were summarily dismissed by the college as being "without merit." Kastl contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, and felt at first that it was supportive of her concerns. But on October 19, she received a letter in which the ACLU declined to take her case and advised her to get her own attorney.
Then Kastl wrote the Civil Rights Division of the state Attorney General's office on October 31, detailing her objections to the policy and forwarding a copy of the letter to Dean Tippett.
This past February, the AG's office responded: "Based on the information that you have given us," it wrote, "it appears that this agency is unable to act on your complaint for lack of jurisdiction under our statute." The Civil Rights Division, the letter went on, is empowered to investigate complaints "when matters involve unlawful discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 years or older) or because of a physical handicap." A transitioning transsexual doesn't qualify under any of those headings.
But only five weeks after she contacted the Attorney General, Kastl received an e-mail from the college terminating her employment. Kim Mounts, a spokesperson for EMCC, says only that "she was not rehired based on performance issues."
But Kastl suspects otherwise and turned to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing discrimination based on sex and retaliation by the college as a result of her letter to the Attorney General. Kastl received a notice of dismissal indicating the EEOC would not be investigating her claim and a Right to Sue Letter suggesting that she should consult a private attorney if she wished to take the matter any further. The letter was dated May 14 and addressed to "Mr. Kastl."
Although she may or may not have a penis, Kastl certainly has balls. She has consulted an attorney and is planning to file a lawsuit against Maricopa County. She says she's prepared to take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if she has to, effectively making a federal case out of going to the bathroom. As Kastl wrote in her letter to Janet Napolitano: "Since transsexualism isn't covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, nor laid out explicitly in any state level anti-discrimination legislation, transsexuals do not enjoy the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States, or the Constitution of the State of Arizona."
"Really, it's not like I pose a threat to the female population." Kastl says. "What gets me is that the district's legal department is ignoring what the State of Arizona deems as proof of my sexual status. They are a public institution, and yet they are making up the law as they go along. It's ludicrous."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.