Chicago aldermen moved a step closer Wednesday to removing a hurdle to allowing people to use whichever public restroom they say matches their gender identity, despite City Council members worrying that some people will take advantage of the new standards to ogle members of the opposite sex.
The council’s Human Rights Committee recommended approving an ordinance supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take out of the city’s human rights code a requirement that people be able to show a government-issued identification card that indicates their gender identification matches the washroom they want to use in places like restaurants and grocery stores.
It’s a politically important change for Emanuel, who repeatedly has lambasted North Carolina officials in recent months for passing a law prohibiting people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t match the gender on their birth certificates. The mayor has said he is trying to poach businesses and trade shows from North Carolina by reaching out to groups that don’t want to be affiliated with the law there.
While he supports the Chicago ordinance change, Emanuel also has said he doesn’t know of widespread problems here faced by transgender and gender-nonconforming Chicagoans who use the restrooms of their choice. For the mayor, it’s more about closing a loophole in order to get Chicago on what he sees as the right side of the issue.
At Wednesday’s hearing, however, several people testified about facing discrimination when they try to use a public bathroom.
Aurora Pineda, a gender-nonconforming woman, said she’s called on to prove she’s female.
“I do get questioned a lot when I go to the bathroom,” Pineda said. “I’ve been asked to step out of the women’s locker room even after I show them my breasts and my genitalia, without saying the other words that might be offensive to you guys.
“I just want to go pee, that’s all I want to do. I want to go pee,” Pineda added. “I want to go in without being harassed, without being followed, without being questioned.”
On the other hand, several aldermen wondered how police, business owners and Chicago Public Schools officials will be able to stop people from claiming to be transgender simply to use the bathroom of the opposite sex.
“Transgender that’s going to go in there, that’s not going to be an issue,” said Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 38th. “But I grew up with a lot of knuckleheads. I was a knucklehead, so I did stupid things, you know? So I see knuckleheads being knuckleheads, guys saying now they want to go into the girls bathrooms.”
“What if Johnny, who everybody knows Johnny’s a boy, he’s got a girlfriend, and now he wants to be a funny guy and he’s going to go in there? ‘I’m going to go in the girls bathroom,'” Sposato said. “We know Johnny is not transgender. Johnny says, ‘I’m going to go in the girls bathroom because today, or whatever, I identify as a female.’ Can Johnny go in there, and what would happen to Johnny?”
CPS officials who testified at Wednesday’s meeting said under the district bathroom policy already in effect, Johnny would be able to use the restroom of his choice as long as he doesn’t engage in any illegal or disruptive behavior while he’s in there.
The full City Council will consider the ordinance governing restroom use in public facilities at the June 22 meeting.
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