The City Council’s Human Relations Committee approved an amendment to the city’s Human Rights Ordinance that would make it possible for transgender individuals to use public restrooms associated with the gender they identify with without the threat of having to show a government issued ID. While the ordinance introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Council’s recently created LGBT Caucus, and Ald. Ed Burke (14) received a significant amount of public support yesterday, a few aldermen on the Council raised concerns about abuse, or what Ald. Nick Sposato (36) dubbed the “knucklehead effect.”
Attendance: Chair Pat Dowell (3), Brian Hopkins (2), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Toni Foulkes (16), David Moore (17), Willie Cochran (20), Danny Solis (25), Chris Taliaferro (29), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Nick Sposato (38), Anthony Napolitano (41), Michele Smith (43), Tom Tunney (44), James Cappleman (46), Joe Moore (49)
“I grew up with a lot of knuckleheads. I was a knucklehead, so I did stupid things. I see knuckleheads being knuckleheads. Guys saying now they want to go into the girl’s bathroom,” Ald. Sposato said, giving the example of a hypothetical boy named “Johnny” who everyone knows identifies as a guy and has a girlfriend. “And now he wants to be a funny guy…go into the girl’s bathroom.”
Like Sposato, Ald. David Moore (17), Ald. Willie Cochran (20), Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) and Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) expressed confusion over how the ordinance would be enforced, bringing up hypothetical situations of people taking advantage of the law. Ald. Napolitano asked what would happen to a man who went to the locker room of a health club to watch women shower. In another hypothetical situation, Ald. Thompson referenced long lines at public restrooms at White Sox games, inquiring what would prevent a non-transgender person from picking which bathroom to use based on wait times.
When administrative and legal officials with Chicago Public Schools testified in support of the ordinance–yesterday’s item was mirrored after recently announced CPS guidelines–Ald. Cochran questioned how CPS deals with students who abuse the rules.
What if I am a student “feeling like a girl” one day, Ald. Cochran asked, echoing Ald. Sposato. “If I want to be funny or offensive that day […] how is this going to be balanced?” An official with CPS said the school would take disciplinary action only if “there was misbehavior in the bathroom.” Ald. Napolitano said it was concerning that regulations seemed to be enforced through “an honor system.”
Ald. Sposato requested that officials from the police department, who were present in the chambers in case their testimony was needed, clarify CPD policy on dealing with complaints made by people who see someone of the opposite sex in a public bathroom.
Police Commander Sean Joyce responded that, “depending on the circumstances”, an officer would respond to the scene and “conduct an investigation.”
“As you know, we don’t police comfort and uncomfort of people…” Commander Joyce began to respond, “If a crime has taken place–”
“I’m not talking about a crime,” Ald. Sposato interrupted. “A woman says a man is in the woman’s bathroom, they call the police. Let’s say we’re here at City Hall, police are all over the place. One of these ladies says–I’ll just use myself as an example–Nick Sposato is in the bathroom, [the police] come to me. What are they supposed to tell me? ‘Why were you in there?’”
Joyce responded that it’s not police policy to arrest someone for using the wrong bathroom unless a crime has been committed, but that an officer could stay on the scene if the complainant requested it.
Only Ald. Napolitano and Ald. Moore (17) voted against the measure. Sposato gave a vocal “no” when the voice vote was taken, but he’s not on the committee.
Prior to the vote, Ald. Moore wondered aloud if the item should be held until someone could properly address the mechanism for penalizing predators and those who falsely identify as transgender. But he was quickly shot down by Chairman Pat Dowell (3) and Ald. Joe Moore (49), who in echoing a famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. on the arch of progress, told his colleagues that it would be a shame for them to look back at this vote and see they were on the wrong side of history.
A majority of those present at yesterday’s meeting praised the ordinance. One of the sponsors, Ald. Tom Tunney (44), the first openly gay person to get elected to the Chicago City Council, noted the amendment was an “evolution of where we’re going as a culture.” Ald. James Cappleman (46) recalled the bigotry he faced when he first came out, adding that to this day he’s still the recipient of homophobic epithets. Public witnesses included representatives from the local chapter of the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Howard Brown, a network of affordable health clinics geared toward LGBT Chicagoans.
Chicago filmmaker Lilly Wachowski, who is best known for directing The Matrix series, showed up to testify in support of the ordinance. She recently came out as transgender. “When I go about my daily life, I get snickered at, ogled, given the stink eye, or even am the subject of the odd, not so surreptitious phone snaps,” Wachowski testified. “It’s a sensitivity that all trans people share in our majority enforced, binary gendered society.”
The amendment now heads to the full City Council for a vote.