Dozens of community members — likely closer to 200 or 250 — packed into and outside of the City Council committee room at City Hall today. Most were there to support new language that would extend social protections to the transgender community
. Some were there to dissent. All were made to wait, as committee chair Phyllis Cleveland deemed that the big draw of the day would be discussed last
. It's almost impossible to make sense of that last point, but as to the legislation...
Here's the gist:
The ordinance begins by updating the law that declares that businesses and "places of pubic accommodation" cannot discriminate in offering goods and services. The new ordinance would include "gender identity or expression" in its anti-discrimination language. Most practically, the ordinance will allow people to use the restroom that corresponds to their own gender identity.
The proposed language changes here would mirror laws in similarly large cities, like Columbus and Dayton.
Again, most of the people who showed up at City Hall today applaud those ideas, but there's been controversy and backlash, most visibly seen through the bleak wormhole of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, which continues to sensationalize
news stories and host countless examples of hate speech in its comments section (the editorial variant of a clogged toilet).
Duh — the legislation demands vetting. That's what council committees (are supposed to) do. But the spirit of the law introduced by councilmen Matt Zone and Joe Cimperman pushes Cleveland in at least one right direction — especially in light of all this post-Gay Games 9 back-slapping.
Here's a major problem with the tone of public debate: Most negative commenters — in person and online — invert the causal problem at hand and cast transgender men and women as the aggressors
. (i.e. If we pass this ordinance, hordes of "men wearing dresses" will start attacking women in their restroom.) Data
bears out the fact that if a crime involves a transgender person, that transgender person is usually the victim
In fact, this legislation isn't even *about* public restrooms, entirely. Cimperman pointed that out, and council staff attorney Jennifer O'Leary said that concerns over restroom bedlam are wholly unfounded.
At one point in the committee discussion today, Councilman Zack Reed asked for the definitions of "sexual orientation," "gender identity or expression," and "expression." Councilman Jeff Johnson reiterated concerns over what he thought were some gray-area definitions. The answers were provided and doused in legal-speak, though. The ordinance was approved in committee, and yellow "Thank You" signs went up from the audience en masse.
(That was when some guy stormed out of the meeting after the ordinance was approved and yelled down the hallway: "It is a fearful day to fall into the hands of the living God!")
Note that the ordinance still has to work through several other committees before getting full legislative approval.
Cimperman listed a number of exemptions, such as very small businesses, churches, VFW halls and more. Johnson pointed out that there's nothing to stop a transgender person from using the restroom of his or her choice right now. The fact of the matter is that business owners have carte blanche to call them out and/or withhold services, etc.
"We're taking out the provision that allows a proprietor to discriminate against someone," O'Leary said. Reports of discrimination would be referred to the community relations board, she added.
“There is a community out there that clearly has a need for protection based on patterns of discrimination,” Cimperman said. And Phyllis Harris, executive director of the LGBT Community Center, said that transgender people face many forms of discrimination, including most notably in the realm of housing and employment.
Zoë Lapin, a transgender woman, said that this "is about shaping a culture of inclusion. It's not just about restrooms. As a person who has been forced to go into a men's room, safety is definitely an issue. It's a valid concern, but we're pointing it in the wrong direction.
"We contribute and we deserve every right to live our life and live our truth."