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  WINDY CITY TIMES

City Council committee votes to advance trans measure
by Matt Simonette
2016-06-08

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The Committee on Human Relations of the Chicago City Council passed a recommendation June 8 that the City Council adopt a measure forbidding business owners and service providers from requiring individuals to have gender-markers on their identification matching their gender-presentation when those individuals try to access restrooms or other public accommodations.

City officials, community members, advocates and political officials spoke on behalf of the proposal, which would, among other things, allow transgender, gender nonconforming or other individuals to access restrooms or locker rooms without being asked for identification to "prove" their gender. The measure was introduced in May by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ald. Ed Burke and members of the LGBT Caucus of the Chicago City Council—Alds. Tom Tunney, James Cappleman, Deb Mell, Raymond Lopez and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.

"I think this is a forward legislation that has met its time," said Tunney.

Committee Chairwoman Pat Dowell expressed support for the measure and opened it up for testimony by dozens of individuals attending the hearing, almost all in favor of the amendment. First to testify was Mona Noriega, a longtime LGBT community activist and chairwoman of the city's Commission on Human Relations. She worked for many months on garnering support for the measure. She said that the current regulation was a product of its time (2002) but is now possibly a violation of civil rights, and is somewhat comparable to North Carolina's notorious HB 2 legislation.

"That's not going so well for the state of North Carolina right now," said Noriega, who further urged the committee members to demonstrate that, "We are not like the misguided legislators of North Carolina."

Legal representatives of Chicago Public Schools testified about their implementation of new guidelines that clarified the rights of transgender students, staff and volunteers. They fielded questions from some aldermen who were concerned that the regulations opened the door for students of one gender to trespass and misbehave in the restroom of the opposite gender, and then say that they were transgender to escape the consequences. Ald. Nicholas Sposato said that his concern was not directed at transgender students but "knucklehead" boys who'd abuse the rules.

"We've seen zero incidents of the 'knucklehead' effect," said CPS Deputy Counsel Ruchi Verma. "We don't think we should be regulating to that fear."

Capt. Sean Joyce of Chicago Police Department's Office of Legal Affairs fielded similar questions about the legal implications of what would happen if patrons in public settings were made to feel uncomfortable by the presence of someone perceived to be the opposite gender. Joyce said every situation would have to be investigated.

"We don't police comfort and discomfort," Joyce said. "… The police are there to investigate a crime. We wouldn't arrest someone for walking into the wrong restroom."

Mell reminded the committee and audience that transgender individuals using the restroom of gender into which they were born were the ones in the "wrong" restroom.

"If we don't change this, we will have more men in women's bathroom and more women in men's bathrooms," she added. "… We encounter transgender people and we don't even know it."

Cappleman added, "The other alternative is we have people who are transgender go to the bathroom outside."

A number of transgender individuals spoke on the new measure's behalf. Filmmaker Lilly Wachowski said, "I am a Chicago filmmaker, taxpayer and bathroom user," and went on to describe being harassed when trying to use a dressing room on a recent shopping trip. Intolerant thinking, she said, "is rampant and institutionalized … . We are here, we exist, and I implore you at this moment to please recognize us."

Trisha Lee Holloway of Howard Brown Health said, "We shouldn't be questioned while we're going about our business, washing our hands and heading out for the rest of our day."

She discussed a fast-food restaurant where transgender individuals were regularly interrogated by its security guard. "That is not creating safety," Holloway noted, adding that it led to "chaos" instead.

Avery James Capaldi, who identifies as intersex, said, "I am 'different,' but my need to use the bathroom is the same of everyone else."

An anonymous witness, the mother of a transgender daughter, described the hardships that her child struggles with in public circumstances. "[Under] the under the current ordinance, she would have to go into the men's room. … Being transgender exposes her to discrimination—it's not American. It's about living in a society where our children can be safe to flourish."

Christopher Clark of Lambda Legal called the current rule "an unlawful barrier that must be eliminated," since it allows business owners and members of the general public to police transgender individuals. "Such policing causes needless humiliation and embarrassment," he said.

Among those who also testified in favor of the new measure were Rabbi Shoshanah Conover of Temple Sholom; Owen Daniel-McCarter of Illinois Safe Schools Alliance; Ed Yohnka of ACLU Illinois; Jennifer Leininger of Lurie Children's Hospital; professor Mickey Mahoney; activist Michael O'Connor; Tanvi Sheth of Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois; activist Rick Garcia; activist Myles Brady; William Greaves, formerly the director of Chicago Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues; Sharmili Majmudar of Rape Victim Advocates; businessman Joe Betancourt; Vincent Samar of Loyola University; activist Aurora Pineda; and Tracy Baim, publisher of the Windy City Times. Ken Gunn of Chicago Commission on Human Relations also spoke.

Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt, along with PAT's Chicago Restroom Access Project, worked to coordinate testimony on the bill. She also addressed the committee.

Holloway told Windy City Times that she was concerned about the issue because, "It creates so much fear and it creates so much anxiety—and it takes our rights for using the restroom away."

She added that her concern for the issue came about after an experience with the police in the Pullman area in 2014.

"I was pulled over by the police and had to be taken to the station," Holloway recalled. "I had to use the bathroom, and because of what my ID said, they made me use the men's room. An officer had to stand in front of the door."

She said the measure brought up what is still for many a very relevant discussion, adding, "For some individuals, there is still trauma about using the bathroom."

The Chicago City Council next meets at 10 a.m. on June 22, when this measure is expected to be put for a vote before the full City Council.

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