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Careless email brings the nation’s bathroom wars to Ocean City, Md.

Beach goers frolic in the surf at Ocean City on the first day of summer on June 21, 2011 in Ocean City, Md (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The longtime head of the beach patrol in Ocean City, Md., faces disciplinary action after sending an email about locker rooms that appeared to mock Target’s policy allowing transgender customers to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify.

Capt. Butch Arbin, a lifeguard for more than 40 years, was responding to complaints by female employees about men who are not transgender using their changing facilities — apparently out of convenience.

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“WE are NOT Target,” Arbin wrote in an email to employees on Sunday. “USE the locker room that corresponds to your DNA. . . . If you’re NOT SURE go to Target.”

LGBT advocates say such comments send a signal that transgender people are not welcome – and run afoul of Maryland’s anti-discrimination law, which bars employers from treating workers differently because of their gender identity.

Ocean City spokeswoman Jessica Waters said Arbin’s email was “completely inappropriate” and did not match official city policy. She said Arbin — who has worked on the beach patrol since 1972, when he was a teenager — will be sanctioned in some way.

“He just stepped way out of line,” Waters said. “It’s not a reflection of Ocean City in any way, and we welcome people of all types.”

Meet Capt. Arbin, a summer lifeguard in Ocean City since 1972

Ocean City is a major summer tourist destination, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the beaches and the boardwalk.

Arbin sent a follow-up email to employees saying he did not mean to offend anyone and pointing out that his message, unlike the Target policy that has drawn national attention, did not have anything to do with transgender individuals.

“I used humor to make the point. However, this is not the same issue that has been in the news,” Arbin said. “I was ONLY looking out for the women of the patrol and was not attempting to put down any group or individual, only maintain a nice facility for the women who choose to use a gender specific facility.”

Arbin declined to comment, but he emailed employees again on Wednesday to offer an apology.

“My careless attempt at humor was inappropriate and in poor taste,” he wrote. “I hope you will accept this hearfelt apology and allow us to move forward, with a positive and more tolerant attitude for each other, our colleagues, our residents and out guests.”

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Patrick Paschall, executive director of FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland, said Arbin’s remarks were the latest from public officials to demean transgender people.

“It’s nothing short of making fun of transgender people, and it’s absolutely unacceptable for a city employee or a public employee to make fun of transgender people at all,” Paschall said. “No one should be surprised when the increased drumbeat of harassment increases to discrimination and even violence against LGBTQ people.”

The ability of transgender people to use bathrooms and other gender-segregated facilities of their choice is the latest flash point in the nation’s culture wars, sparking political battles across the country.

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The Obama administration has instructed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity, while North Carolina passed a law requiring people to use bathrooms matching the sex on their birth certificates.

Maryland’s anti-discrimination law stops short of mandating that transgender people be able to use the public locker rooms of their choice. But it does require that business establishments with sex-segregated public locker rooms either do that or provide transgender people with a functionally equivalent and private space to change, shower and use the restroom.