Emanuel moves to ensure transgender access to public bathrooms

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A gender neutral sign is posted outside a bathroom. | Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved Wednesday to close a loophole in Chicago’s Human Rights Ordinance that, he claimed, could “inadvertently” allow restaurants, hotels and other “public accommodations” to discriminate against transgender people.

“There was a section as it relates to IDs. It has discrimination in it. So, we’re gonna take that out. Our times have changed. Our values are more reflective. There’s been a series of actions we’ve taken at the Chicago Public Schools. The federal government has been clear. And Mona [Noriega, chairman of the Commission on Human Relations] brought it to my attention,” Emanuel said.

“Can I say it’s a problem? I don’t know that individually. [But] this has been a request of the transgender community and we’re gonna make the changes to reflect our values and to make sure there is no discrimination in the city of Chicago, whether it’s washrooms in the city, but also in our schools.”

The amendment introduced at a City Council meeting would essentially prohibit places such as hotels, restaurants and grocery stores from requiring patrons to show a “government-issued identification” upon request to access facilities “private in nature” such as restrooms “based on a person’s biological category, gender identity or both.”

Instead, the ordinance would state, “For purposes of this subsection, ‘sex’ includes both biological category and gender identity. Each person determines his or her own gender identity. No proof shall be required except his or her expression of his or her gender.”

Emanuel has been trying to poach corporations and conventions from the state of North Carolina ever since that state’s Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law eliminating anti-discrimination protections for lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

The amendment introduced Wednesday along with the City Council’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender caucus is yet another step to differentiate Chicago from North Carolina and showcase the city as a welcoming place.

Why not go a step further and require transgender washrooms in public places?

“Why don’t we do this. We have a code. It permits discrimination inadvertently and we’re gonna take that code and update it to reflect our values so there is no discrimination,” Emanuel said before ending a news conference.

After the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the nation, Ald. James Cappleman (46th), one of five openly gay aldermen, said Chicago should turn its attention to the rights of transgender people and consider requiring “gender-neutral” washrooms in public places,

Cappleman said then that the “day I never dreamed could be possible” does not end the fight for equality — particularly not for transgender Chicagoans.

“Sadly, one of their big issues is where do they go the bathroom? If you talk to those people who are transgender and identify as one sex, the stories I’m hearing from them is that there is a lot of stress and trauma about where to go to the bathroom,” Cappleman said.

“A place to start is when we are looking at a business opening up — say a large restaurant maybe with a certain capacity — we should start encouraging three sets of bathrooms. One for men. One for women. And one gender-neutral,” he said. “Same for large public places like airports, stadiums and government buildings like City Hall. At least that’s a start.”

At the time, Cappleman said he had not yet decided whether to introduce an ordinance that would compel businesses, airports, stadiums and other places open to the public to create gender-neutral washrooms.

“There has to be more discussion to see what the repercussions are on it,” he said.

“But the fact of the matter is, we have a significant portion of the population that are transgender and they experience much more discrimination than gays and lesbians,” he said then. “As a gay man, people look at me and don’t always assume I’m a gay man. For someone who is transgender, it’s right out there.”

To date, no such legislation has been introduced.

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