Cleveland Council Considers Transgender Protections, Sparking High Emotion on Both Sides

Activists showed support as the ACLU's Susan Becker urged City Council members to strengthen anti-discrimination laws.
Activists showed support as the ACLU's Susan Becker urged City Council members to strengthen anti-discrimination laws.

The legislation, sponsored by councilmen Joe Cimperman and Matt Zone, would expand anti-discrimination protections to transgender people in employment by city contractors. And it would allow people to use the restroom they feel best matches their gender identity, regardless of physical anatomy, in most public places.

The restroom measure has garnered the most vocal opposition, with many citing safety concerns. One opponent told council that he came to defend his wife and daughter. He said changing the law would allow someone identifying as female but with male anatomy to shower near them at a gym.

"They would find this greatly disturbing," he said. "My daughter and my wife represent the vast majority of women in Cleveland, and the entire world."

Susan Becker, a former law professor and member of the American Civil Liberties Union who has advocated for LGBT rights, said such worries are fueled by an inaccurate perception of LGBT people as sexual predators.

"Opponents’ efforts to resurrect these myths are not only shameful and scientifically incorrect, they are dangerous, because perpetuation of such myth fuels hatred towards transgender individuals - and that hatred kills," she said.

Becker said it’s trans people who have the most serious safety concerns in public restrooms, since they are often harassed if their presentation - voice, clothing, appearance - is not stereotypically male or female.

Council members said they'd been fielding many calls from constituents on the issue and said it was important to allow more conversation before putting it to a vote.

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