Ald. James Cappleman (46th) | Sun-Times file photo

Gay alderman proposes gender-neutral washrooms to accomodate transgender Chicagoans

Now that same-sex marriage is legal across the nation, Chicago should turn its attention to the rights of transgender people and consider requiring “gender-neutral” washrooms in public places, one of five openly gay aldermen said Friday.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said 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. Same for large public places like airports, stadiums and government buildings like City Hall. At least that’s a start.”

Cappleman said he has 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. 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.”

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Chicago’s first openly gay alderman, said he already has gender-neutral washrooms at the Ann Sather’s Restaurants he owns. He would like to see other restaurants, bars and businesses do the same.

“It makes a lot of sense for the workplace to have gender-free bathrooms. We have the privacy of using the bathroom yourself. That’s the way we do it. But, I’m not into more requirements for small business,” Tunney said.

Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), Chicago’s first openly lesbian alderman, said she’s not sure how she feels about the idea of requiring gender-neutral washrooms.

“We just got the [gay] caucus up and running. We’ll see what comes out of that,” she said.

The new City Council sworn in May 18 includes five openly gay aldermen: 10 percent of the 50-member council.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reported last month, re-elected incumbents Tunney, Mell and Cappleman have joined forces with rookie Aldermen Raymond Lopez (15th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) to form a first-ever Gay Caucus.

Their political and legislative agenda includes increased AIDS funding, the meningitis epidemic and other health issues; homelessness and suicides among gay youth; stepped up training for Chicago Police officers to end police profiling of transgender people and prevent violence against them and an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in Chicago Public Schools and strong policies to prevent bullying against students based on their sexual orientation and gender identify.

Tunney has said he could also revisit the politically volatile debate about whether City Hall should establish contract set-asides for businesses owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered residents.

That’s an idea Tunney raised in 2003, dropped like a hot potato after community backlash, then brought up again six years later only to abandon the idea again after learning there was “no consensus” in the gay community about whether to pursue the special status that gives companies a leg up on city contracts.

“The criticism I heard from some of our members was, `We have minority and women set-asides. So then, who are we trying to help—the gay white male? Really?’ That was the struggle,” Tunney said last month.

“I get it. I learned a little bit. I vetted it. I got some positive comment that, maybe I was a little bit insular on being a gay white male.”

On Friday, Tunney set his sights on ending workplace discrimination, which is outlawed in Illinois but still legal elsewhere.

“In fourteen states, you can be fired for being LGBT. That’s the next hurdle we have to overcome,” he said.

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