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The City Council of Oxford, Ala., has reversed course and repealed a week-old law that restricts transgender people’s access to public restrooms. The Council voted 3-2 to rescind the ordinance, which they were able to do because Mayor Leon Smith had not yet signed it into law.
The original ordinance criminalized using the bathroom opposite a person’s biological sex as assigned at birth, making it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500 or six months in jail if a person was caught in the “wrong” restroom. It was originally proposed in response to retail giant Target’s embrace of a pro-transgender restroom policy, reports The Huntsville Times. Last month, the company announced it would allow transgender employees and shoppers to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity.
More than 100 people crowded into the council chambers, with the rest of the onlookers spilling outside, as the council deliberated over the proposal to rescind the ordinance.
Council member Charlotte Hubbard cited an opinion by the city’s attorney, who had warned that the ordinance might run afoul of Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination. A similar law passed in North Carolina has been declared by the U.S. Department of Justice to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as Title IX.
Council member Mike Henderson said that the council should consider another ordinance that would be on stronger legal footing and would be able to withstand any lawsuits brought against the city. But Council President Steven Waits said he was unmoved by the threat of legal action, accusing opponents of the law of waging a “fear campaign” against it in the hope of overturning it.
Other cities throughout the country have been weighing similar actions, which supporters of bathroom ordinances claim is needed to protect “public safety,” particularly the safety and well-being of women and children who could potentially be harmed by sexual predators. They claim that allowing transgender people to use bathrooms other than those designed for their assigned sex at birth will allow predators to claim that they, too, are transgender and inoculate them from legal consequences for entering a women’s restroom, for example. Yet not all jurisdictions are completely on board: a recently introduced public restroom ordinance in Rockwall, Texas, was defeated after city council members refused to second a motion to allow a vote on the proposed ordinance.
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Times that the idea that transgender individuals somehow pose a danger to others in public restrooms is “utter nonsense, and dangerous nonsense.”
Meanwhile, the group Freedom for All Americans cheered the repeal of the bathroom law in Oxford, which came on the heels of the defeat of Rockwall’s proposed ordinance.
“Elected officials are taking a stand for treating everyone fairly and equally, and in the process they are firmly rejecting the ugliest lies that our opposition propagates,” said Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans. “The work that went into securing these victories in Rockwall and Oxford will help us defeat similar anti-LGBT measures in other municipalities and states. We also must continue vigorously educating Americans about transgender people, so that we can ultimately not just defeat bad bills, but advance the comprehensive nondiscrimination protections needed to ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally under the law.”
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