Bullets were fired at her house and car years ago. She’s received anonymous hate calls. A businessman tipped her off that a group of men meeting in a bar had discussed plans to kill her.
But the Iron Range is home for Karen Hummel. So when the City Council of Crosby, Minn., passed an ordinance in 2012 designed to prevent her from using the women’s locker room at the local community center, she fought back.
Hummel, 62, is a transgender woman. A retired nurse, she is married to another woman, a bank teller, and was born and raised in Crosby, northeast of Brainerd.
Other states and the federal government have squared off recently in legal battles over whether transgender people can use restrooms that match their gender identity. But Hummel’s experience — years before the issue was a national topic — shows that these bitter disputes can also take place in Minnesota, even though there is no state law on transgender people and bathrooms.
Hummel, whose first name used to be Timothy, began transitioning to a woman in the mid-1980s.
Five years ago, Hummel, who was born with physical characteristics of both sexes due to medication her mother took during pregnancy, started going to the Crosby community center’s women’s locker room, with the approval of the center’s staff.
A woman complained of Hummel’s presence, and when the center defended her right to use the women’s locker, the woman took the issue to the Crosby City Council.
Hummel said a Crosby police official told her that the police were opening a criminal investigation and she could face voyeurism charges and if found guilty, be designated a sex offender.
The City Council passed a “Gender Discrimination Policy” ordinance in April 2012, stating that people must use city restrooms and facilities that matched the gender identity on their birth certificates and be prepared to produce them if questioned by the city.
Hummel talked to OutFront Minnesota, the LGBT civil rights group, which contacted the state Department of Human Rights. The department found probable cause that the ordinance was being enforced only against Hummel and that she was the victim of sexual orientation discrimination.
The department told the city to rescind the ordinance and undergo sensitivity training. On Sept. 8, 2014, the council voted to do just that and pay Hummel $19,500. “The settlement does not mean that the city engaged in wrongdoing,” the council states in its meeting minutes. The police investigation against Hummel was dropped.
“She’s put up with an awful lot in her life,” said Phil Duran, OutFront’s legal director. “I am glad … we were able to achieve some measure of justice.”
Hummel was shaken by the incident. “Can you imagine growing up in a town and having the town turn on you and investigate you as some type of deviant criminal and pass an ordinance specifically in your direction?” she said.
Hummel does have some community support. “She has a lot of character and guts to follow up on what she believes in,” said Bob Sandin, a member of the Crosby-Ironton school board. “I know what she has gone through. Most people would run and hide, but Karen didn’t.”
Hummel says she’s pleased to see that the Obama administration has issued a directive to schools to let transgender students use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
“Maybe it’s about time that people start backing people’s rights against discrimination,” she said, adding, “It’s not going to be resolved overnight.”