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Chicago takes small step toward transgender equality

The ordinance was championed by rookie Ald. Andre Vasquez, a former rapper known for homophobic, misogynistic lyrics. It states: “No form issued by the city shall ask an individual’s sex unless it is necessary for medical reasons or required by another law.”

Chicago City Hall
A Chicago City Council committee OK’d a proposal to change how — and if — city forms will include questions about a person’s gender.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Led by a former battle rapper known for his homophobic and misogynistic lyrics, Chicago aldermen on Monday took a small, but important step towards transgender equality.

The City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations approved an ordinance that states: “No form issued by the city shall ask an individual’s sex unless it is necessary for medical reasons or required by another law.”

In those relatively rare cases when “selection of gender identity from predetermined options is required by design of any city form,” the gender options “shall include: `male,’ ‘female’ and ‘nonbinary,’ the ordinance states.

Rookie Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) championed the ordinance in a move that was a personal redemption of sorts.

Vasquez openly acknowledged he was making amends for lyrics he wrote during his days as a rapper.

“In my youth, I grew up ignorant of the struggles of our LGBTQ siblings. My ignorance led to many words and actions that I will forever regret,” Vasquez told his colleagues.

“I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and it led to toxic behavior that hurt and offended others. It is my belief that, had I grown up with a better understanding of our shared struggles, my actions would have been different.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) speaks at a press conference at the “Black Trans Lives Matter” mural on Aug. 22, 2020.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) speaks at a press conference in August at the “Black Trans Lives Matter” mural Saturday afternoon, Aug. 22, 2020.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Myles Brady Davis is director of communications for Equality Illinois, and a “proud, black trans-masculine person” whose “pronouns are they/them.”

Brady Davis applauded the change that will “allow trans and gender non-conforming people to be their authentic selves on city forms.”

“Individuals would be able to designate ’non-binary’ as a gender option. Individuals will be able to designate their personal pronouns — he/him, she/her or they/them — on their forms. This is critical to helping trans and gender-non-conforming Illinoisans be secure in their persons and affirmed for who they are. And prevent mis-gendering, which often leads to other kinds of pervasive violence,” Brady Davis said.

Brady Davis cited results of a 2015 “trans U.S. survey.” It showed 34% of trans people in Illinois who had shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation were “verbally harassed, denied benefits or services, asked to leave or even assaulted.”.

Iggy Ladden is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in serving transgender people and is a “non-binary transgender person myself.”

Ladden argued that “living in the world as a trans person is devastatingly alienating, stressful and dangerous” and that trauma, anxiety, depression and drug addiction are “terribly common” among trans people because they are so isolated.

Ladden then ticked off the statistics to back it up.

• 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetimes, compared to 5% of cisgendered people — those whose gender has remained the same since birth.

• 1 in 5 transgendered people have experienced homelessness at some point, “and this is often tied directly to discrimination.”

• In 2020 alone, 26 transgender women have died as part of what Ladden called “an epidemic of trans homicides.” Most were “women of color,” she said.

• 28% of “trans folks” have been “fired, denied a promotion or not hired due to their gender identity or expression.” Over half “report experiencing discrimination or harassment at work.”

“I am here, first and foremost, to say that we exist and it’s time that the city of Chicago acknowledge our existence,” Ladden said.

“Please do not reinforce our erasure across our city’s most vital public institutions. Our trans community needs your swift and decisive support. … For our city council to hold fast to the myth of the gender binary is to sanction the ongoing, rampant discrimination across many city spheres as well as condone the countless homicides and suicides that explicitly reinforce our community’s erasure.”

What Ladden loves most about the ordinance is the fact that it “cuts to the chase in a big way.”

“When is it actually pertinent to inquire about someone’s gender identity? The answer is rarely,” Ladden said. And when it is, “we need to create opportunities for people to self-identify and not to assign those identities to people.”

Ladden considers the ordinance “the beginning of a journey” for the city, “But a powerful beginning at that.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) congratulated Vasquez — not just for championing the groundbreaking ordinance, but for maturing “from someone who perpetuated homophobia and transphobia to someone who is now working to right historical wrongs, particularly as it relates to issues of gender and gender identity.”