ST. LOUIS • Former Cardinal Lance Berkman may be a fan favorite, but his comments and appearance in an ad opposing an equal rights ordinance on the ballot in Houston touched a nerve in the St. Louis area, where local anti-discrimination ordinances have for years protected many against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the ad campaign, Berkman urges opposition to Proposition 1, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as gender, race, national origin, religion, pregnancy, and a list of other traits included in federal anti-discrimination law.
He explains that he’s against the ordinance because of one equal-access application, saying as a father of four daughters he does not want “troubled men to enter women’s bathrooms, showers and locker rooms.”
On Friday from Busch Stadium, he elaborated on his stance to the Post-Dispatch, saying he would never want to discriminate against anyone.
He said he was not applying the term “troubled men” to transgender people. “That language refers to that scenario or a voyeur — somebody who goes into a women’s bathroom and just likes to look at people. That to me is troubled.”
For members of the transgender community here, it sounded like backpedaling.
“It sounded pretty ignorant,” said Stephanie James, 65, of Maryland Heights, who had her gender reassignment surgery in 2009.
James, speaking on Saturday, said the problem is even when Berkman tried to smooth things over it was “all under the misbelief, the misapprehension that a lot of people have that this will allow weirdos and creeps into the restroom and so forth, when they’ve always been able to get in anyway.”
The idea that anti-discrimination laws somehow make it easier for a man to throw on a dress and molest people in the women’s restroom completely misses the point, she said.
“People just don’t understand what transgender is,” she said. “I’m a girl.”
James said she has faced discrimination. Months after her surgery, she was in the women’s bathroom at a bar downtown when someone entered her stall and demanded she leave. By then, she said, she not only identified as a woman but had proof on her drivers license.
“You should not have to show a drivers license to go pee,” she said Saturday.
St. Louis and St. Louis County, as well as a number of surrounding municipalities, have for several years now had ordinances like the proposed one in Houston, which provide “public accommodations” for everyone regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
As Berkman was due back Saturday evening to throw out the first pitch at Busch Stadium on his bobblehead day, a Cardinals spokesman said the team was aware of Berkman’s comments and his participation in the ad campaign, and that his views do not reflect how the Cardinals feel as an organization. But, the spokesman said, the club recognizes his right to an opinion.
“He was voted as a fan favorite, picked as one of the favorite players for the 10th season of Busch Stadium — for his heroics in the 2011 World Series and that postseason,” a team spokesman said. “The team chose to honor him with a bobblehead, and we are delighted to have him here so that we can honor him, in person, for what he did as a player.”
At the stadium, Berkman received a standing ovation. He tossed to Adam Wainwright, who welcomed him off the mound with a bear hug. Berkman played two seasons with the Cardinals and then retired after spending 2013 with Texas. His hit in extra innings tied Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers.
Jamie Hileman, a trans advocate and board president of local transgender rights organization Metro Trans Umbrella Group, said she shares Berkman’s concerns about violence against women — but said many people were ignorant to the violence against transgender women because of “this kind of fear-mongering.”
“There has never been one single, documented case of a transgender woman assaulting someone in the women’s bathroom,” said Hileman, 48, of Alton. “There have been many, many cases of transgender women being assaulted in women’s bathrooms.”
Many fans heading into Saturday’s game hadn’t heard of the controversy. When told, several were supportive of Berkman.
“I can tell you this,” said Jeremy MacLaughlin, 45, of Springfield, Mo., in for the game with his dad, brother and friend. “Four guys from southwest Missouri would probably agree with him. He’d probably get applauded in Springfield.”
Katie Napier, 22, of St. Louis, disagreed. “Me, personally — a person’s a person,” she said. “Whatever they choose is their right. You can’t tell a person to be one specific way.”
Across the street, four anti-gay protesters gathered, shaking signs. No one seemed to be protesting Berkman’s comment.
Victoria Phelps, 23, of Topeka, Kan., said the spotlight gave them the opportunity to make their points.
“It’s got the nation’s — probably the world’s — attention,” Phelps said. “It’s not our message. It’s God’s message.”
Mike Neberz, 46, of Chicago, just watched, shaking his head. The protesters, he said, need to mind their own business. “The transgender and gay communities,” he said, “go through enough in their lives.”
Ben Frederickson, Derrick Goold and David Hunn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.