CITY HALL — Squeamish aldermen worried about the "knucklehead effect" in debating an ordinance on transgender bathroom access Wednesday.
The Equal Access Ordinance, proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council's LGBT Caucus, would ban discrimination on bathroom access and especially the requirement that anyone be forced to show a government identification card to gain access to a bathroom, locker room or changing room.
"It's not a big deal," said Human Relations Commissioner Mona Noriega. "We allow people to use the bathroom they want to use."
"I don't think we should be policing bathrooms on the basis of gender identity," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), chairman of the Human Relations Committee, which passed the measure over a few murmured "no" votes, although no alderman asked to be registered as against it.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) expressed concerns over the "knucklehead effect" of people who might say they "identify" as a sex just to gain entry to that restroom.
"I grew up with a lot of knuckleheads," Sposato said. "I was a knucklehead."
Ald. David Moore (17th) wondered aloud about sexual predators who might seek to "misuse this ordinance."
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said it was "based on an honor system ... that can't even be questioned."
"These kinds of problems don't come up," countered Kenneth Gunn, deputy commissioner of Human Relations, adding that the ordinance makes no changes to anything considered "criminal activity" in bathrooms or anywhere else.
Chicago Police Capt. Sean Joyce testified that if someone makes a complaint about a person using a bathroom, "You conduct an investigation."
Adding, "We don't police comfort or uncomfort," Joyce said, "If you're just using the bathroom and leaving, there's no issue."
"This ordinance is not as scary as it seems," said lead sponsor Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). "I believe this is an evolution of where we're going as a culture," he added. "Discrimination is not to be tolerated in the city. We know that. But we don't realize what discrimination is sometimes."
"The alternative is to have people who are transgender go outside," said Ald. James Cappleman (46th). He called it "appalling" and "blatant discrimination" that anyone would have to ask, "Where can I go to the bathroom?"
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the transgender community was sometimes subjected to "harassment," "snide comments" and "outright physical intimidation" in using a bathroom.
Lilly Wachowski, writer-director of "The Matrix" movies and a Whitney Young graduate, introduced herself as "a Chicago filmmaker, transgender and bathroom user" in testifying before the committee. Wachowski said she had been subjected to humiliation and threats in using a store changing room.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was a privacy issue for someone to be forced to "prove your gender."
"This proposal really is simple," Yohnka said. Citing how dozens of cities and 10 states had already passed similar laws, he added, "I don't think there's a higher percentage of knuckleheads in Chicago than in those other cities."
Technically, the proposal amends a 2002 addition to the city's Human Rights Ordinance that banned discrimination against the transgender community, but at the same time called for IDs to be potentially presented in using a bathroom. North Carolina recently passed a law restricting bathroom access by calling for IDs to be presented.
"We are not like the misguided legislators ... in North Carolina," Noriega said.
William Greaves, former city liaison to the LGBT community, testified that the ID requirement was accepted at the time as a trade-off necessary to get the equal-rights provisions passed, and that transgender citizens felt relatively confident then that they could obtain a state ID with the desired sex on it.
"In the 14 years since then, much has happened," Greaves added. "It's time to remove it from the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance."
The committee agreed, passing the measure on to the full City Council for final approval later this month.
Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) said she was "proud" Chicago is "at the forefront in treating our brothers and sisters with the utmost respect," adding, "It feels good to be a Chicagoan today."
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