On June 22, 2016, less than a month after Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced new district policies to support transgender students, the Chicago City Council passed the Equal Access Consistent with a Person’s Gender Identity Amendment to the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance. The amendment prohibits businesses that provide public accommodations from requiring patrons to display ID in order to access public facilities.
Proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ward 14 Alderman Ed Burke, and the LGBT Caucus, the amendment dictates that businesses must allow patrons to choose the facilities that they most identify with and cannot ask them to show identification in order to prove their gender. The amendment reinforces the idea that gender identity, gender expression, and anatomy are separate. Additionally, it protects trans people from being discriminated against due to a business owner’s perception of their gender.
While the amendment does not require that businesses provide single-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms, it does prohibit them from questioning a patron’s bathroom choice. The businesses subject to this ordinance are defined as public, for-profit businesses offering goods or services to the general public. The new protections became effective immediately after the amendment passed on June 22, and violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
The amendment is Emanuel’s most recent attempt at promoting diversity and protecting the LGBT+ community from discrimination. In a news release from the Mayor’s Press Office, Mayor Emanuel praised the city saying it “celebrates diversity and has a long and proud history of being a welcoming place for LGBT residents. Chicago stands in solidarity with the LGBT community here and across the country, and today’s action will ensure that we are a place of inclusion and tolerance that allows people from all groups — no matter their gender or who they love — to participate free of discrimination.”
Written with the help of the City Council’s LGBT Caucus and the Pride Action Tank’s Chicago Restroom Access Project (CRAP), the amendment is an example of how inclusion of all kinds of individuals can better the community as a whole. The ordinance drew praise from Equality Illinois for its expansion of equal access to public accommodations and inclusivity of transgender people in the community.
In a press release from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim L. Hunt explained that “removing the discriminatory language towards transgender people not only expands access to spaces like bathrooms, but it also helps ensure that people are treated with dignity and respect.”
As students return to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) this fall, or arrive for the first time, they’ll be entering a more trans-inclusive city.
Chris Chen is a incoming freshman who identifies as genderqueer. Chen feels optimistic about the changes. “Coming from a suburban area where topics covering non-binary people are usually left unaddressed, it feels great knowing that the city I’m going to go to college in is taking steps to protect non-cis citizens. This is the time when I will be most vulnerable because I’m going to be on my own while also trying to stand up for what I believe in, so it really helps to know that the city is on my side,” Chen said.
Laura Mercer is also a genderqueer freshman and feels that “they’re making steps towards inclusiveness and respecting the privacy of non-cis citizens, which honestly is keeping us safer from harassment on the part of our gender identity.”
Though SAIC is ahead of the city in terms of promoting an inclusive environment, the city’s steps will undoubtedly impact SAIC students.
Citizens and students who feel they’ve been discriminated against in violation of this amendment, or any aspect of the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, may file a complaint during business hours at 740 N. Sedgwick Street, 4th Floor.
SAIC offers at least one gender-neutral bathroom at each of their properties, though most buildings offer two or more. A complete list of SAIC’s gender neutral bathroom locations can be found in the Student Resources page on SAIC’s website.