Sex in Public
70 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2019 Last revised: 1 Nov 2019
Date Written: February 28, 2019
This Article recounts the first history of sex in public accommodations law—a history essential to debates that rage today over gender and sexuality in public. Just fifty years ago, not only LGBTQ people but also cisgender women were the subject of discrimination in public. Restaurants and bars displayed “men-only” signs. Women held secondary status in civic organizations, such as Rotary and Jaycees, and were excluded altogether from many professional bodies, such as press clubs. Sports—from the Little League to the golf club—kept girls and women from achieving athletic excellence. Financial institutions subsumed married women’s identities within those of their husbands. Over the course of the 1970s, the feminist movement protested and litigated against sex discrimination in public accommodations. They secured state laws opening up commerce and leisure for “full and equal enjoyment” by both sexes. When “sex” was added to state public accommodations laws, feminists, their opponents, and government actors understood sex equality in public to signify more than equal access to public spaces. It also implicated freedom from the regulation of sexuality and gender performance and held the potential to transform institutions central to dominant masculinity, like baseball fields and bathrooms. This history informs the interpretation of public accommodations laws in controversies from same-sex couples’ wedding cakes to transgender people’s restroom access.
Keywords: antidiscrimination, sex, sexuality, public accommodations, equality, feminist movement, history
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