Like many people in Chicago, I use public restrooms almost every day, sometimes several times in a day. My use of these facilities is entirely unremarkable and unmemorable. In my work on behalf of transgender clients as a legal fellow with the ACLU of Illinois’ LGBT & HIV Project, I’ve become all too familiar with the troubling and often devastating discrimination faced by transgender people in Illinois. I have personally seen how widespread ignorance and intolerance towards members of this community casts a dark shadow over the lives of people who have done nothing wrong – people who just want to live their lives being true to themselves and respected for who they are.
Because of my work, I’ve found that I can no longer use the restroom without thinking about how what for most people is ordinary and forgettable (as it should be) is a source of significant anxiety, fear, and even danger for members of our community and visitors to our City who are transgender or gender-nonconforming. Things are even worse currently in Chicago when it comes to the stress transgender people face because of a Chicago ordinance that currently empowers owners and managers of restaurants, bars, and other places serving the public to stop people they perceive as transgender and ask them for an ID before they can use the restroom.
On Wednesday, the City Council will vote on an ordinance amending the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) to correct this problem. Among other things, the HRO prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation. However, the law lets those who own or manage sex-segregated housing, single-sex schools, as well as public restrooms, locker rooms and health clubs embarrass and harass people they perceive as transgender by demanding proof of gender. The proposed change to the ordinance eliminates that loophole so that the HRO fully protects transgender people from discrimination by places that are open to the public. The idea behind the change is simple: everyone should have access to appropriate facilities without fear of being harassed. In other words, the change extends to everyone in our City the ability to have an unremarkable and unmemorable trip to the restroom.
Even after this change in law takes effect, people who are transgender will continue to face ignorance and discrimination. And I will continue my work with the ACLU to address those issues. But in Chicago at least, we will all be able to use the restroom without fear of embarrassment or harassment.