My name is Christopher Clark and I am an attorney in the Chicago office of Lambda Legal. Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and people living with HIV. I also serve as the organization’s national strategist for the work we do on behalf of LGBTQ students. I offer this testimony in support of the proposed Equal Access Consistent With a Person’s Gender Identity Amendment to the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance.
I would like to thank the Mayor, the LGBT caucus and Alderman Burke for introducing this proposed change to the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance. I would also like to thank Commissioner Noriega for bringing this important proposal to the attention of the Mayor. And, I would like to thank this Committee for providing members of the community the opportunity to be heard on this matter.
The provision of the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance that appears to limit the use of a single-sex restroom or locker room to people who can produce government-issued IDs that have a sex or gender designation that matches the sex designation of the facility is an unlawful discriminatory barrier and it must be eliminated. The ID Provision causes significant harm and distress to transgender and gender nonconforming Chicagoans and visitors to our city because it essentially allows owners of public accommodations and even members of the general public to “police” the use of restrooms and other single-sex spaces by demanding the production of an ID in order to use such facilities. Such policing causes needless humiliation, embarrassment and rejection. And, the ID Provision acts as a total bar to accessing facilities for people who do not have a government-issued ID that corresponds with their gender identity.
The ID provision stands in marked contrast to, and may in fact violate, the Illinois Human Rights Act. The state’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the enjoyment of public accommodations on the basis of gender identity and the state’s Human Rights Commission has stated that that means that a person must be permitted to use a restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. In a recent decision discussing the issue, the Commission stated that it was “inherently problematic” to interrogate customers about their gender identity or to engage in some form of “stop and frisk” to police the use of restrooms.
The ID Provision also sends a troubling message to LGBTQ youth because it legitimizes the disparate and harassing treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. When our laws and our government sanction discrimination against a particular group of people, it invites private citizens to do the same.
And, the effects of such discrimination on the youngest members of our community cannot be overstated. In survey after survey, transgender and gender nonconforming students have reported that they are disproportionately targets of harassment and violence in schools and, as a result, they are more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe. Discrimination and harassment also leads to higher rates of depression and anxiety among transgender and gender nonconforming youth, a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse and a greater risk of suicide.
The Chicago Public Schools recognized the need to protect LGBTQ young people when it recently issued a set of comprehensive and affirming guidelines designed to create safer, more inclusive schools and to reduce anti-LGBTQ discrimination and harassment. These guidelines specifically state that CPS student shall have access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The CPS guidelines are consistent with guidelines and policies in school districts across the country. In a recent decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that affirmed the right of a Virginia high school student to use the restroom that corresponds to his gender identity, Lambda Legal was proud to submit a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a cross-section school administrators from around the country who had enacted affirming policies that treat transgender students with dignity and respect and allow them to use facilities that correspond to their gender identities. In that brief, those administrators told the Court that such policies had not caused any disruption in their schools. They stated: “Respect for a transgender student’s gender identity supports the dignity and worth of all students by affording them equal opportunities to participate and learn”.
It is time for the City Council to bring the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance in line with the Illinois Human Rights Act and the guidelines issued by Chicago Public Schools. Lambda Legal urges the Council to pass the Equal Access Consistent With a Person’s Gender Identity Amendment.