Sex in Public

70 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2019 Last revised: 1 Nov 2019

See all articles by Elizabeth Sepper

Elizabeth Sepper

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

Deborah Dinner

Cornell Law School; affiliation not provided to SSRN

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

Suggested Citation

Sepper, Elizabeth and Dinner, Deborah and Dinner, Deborah, Sex in Public (February 28, 2019). 129 Yale L.J. 78 (2019), Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth Sepper (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

Deborah Dinner

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell Law School
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-1698 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics