Alabama Town Threatens Trans People With Jail Time for Going to the Bathroom

Those who enter restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates face incarceration or a $500 fine in Oxford.

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Apr 27, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

The backlash is growing a week after Target stores across the country announced that transgender shoppers were welcome to use bathrooms that align with their gender identities.

More than 900,000 people have signed a pledge to boycott Target stores, and one small city in Alabama is using legislation to protest the big-box retailer.

The five members of the City Council of Oxford, Alabama, unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday prohibiting people from using public restrooms that do not match the gender listed on their birth certificates, local outlet The Anniston Star reports.

“The City Council finds that its citizens have a right to quite solicitude and to be secure from embarrassment and unwanted intrusion into their privacy while utilizing multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facilities by members of the opposite biological sex,” the ordinance states. Those who violate the ban—which went into effect on the council’s passage—face a fine of $500 or six months in jail. With a population of about 21,232, according to the most recent census, Oxford has one Target store within city limits. There are nearly 1,800 Target stores in the U.S.

Oxford’s legislation is in response to a statement Target issued last week affirming that trans patrons can use bathrooms that match their gender identities, according to The Anniston Star. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, President Steven Waits said that he received multiple complaints from residents about Target, and the bathroom bill was not meant to be discriminatory but was created “to protect our women and children.”

“What’s so frustrating about this kind of legislation both here and elsewhere is just how misinformed and uninformed it is,” Randall Marshall, the legal director for the ACLU of Alabama, told TakePart. “Sexual offense is certainly a societal problem, but bathrooms are not the choice of venue.”

The bathroom myth—that men will pose as trans women to gain bathroom access and prey on women and girls—has been debunked. There are zero verifiable reports of such attacks, according to Media Matters for America. Last week a coalition of more than 250 organizations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence once again refuted such claims and released a joint statement condemning legislation that restricts trans people’s access to restrooms.

Yet Waits’ reasoning is a popular one, used routinely among conservative lawmakers to gain support. Restrictive bathroom bills are under consideration in Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, and South Carolina. Last month North Carolina became the first state to ban trans people from using restrooms that match their gender identities in public schools, universities, and government buildings.

Oxford’s law is more extreme than North Carolina’s, not only because it extends to private companies but also because it criminalizes those who violate the bill. North Carolina’s legislation is a civil bill and does not list penalties for violating the bathroom code.

LGBT advocates, including the Human Rights Campaign, have also questioned the ability to enforce such legislation, noting that police officers don’t spend their days monitoring bathrooms, and many people don’t have their birth certificates on hand every time they need to use the restroom.

“It’s just yet one more example of politicians in Alabama concentrating on things that are sensational as opposed to trying to do something with the very many real problems we have in Alabama,” Marshall said. Some of those problems include LGBT discrimination.

More than 35 percent of LGBT Alabama residents said they experienced harassment at work, 40 percent said they had been harassed in public establishments, and half of LGBT students said they were bullied at school, according to a 2014 Human Rights Campaign survey. LGBT citizens face discrimination across the nation, but it’s legal in Alabama. The Cotton State does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment or housing, nor does it specify LGBT students as a protected class in school harassment policies.

Although Oxford’s ordinance went into effect with the council’s passage, Marshall said the law might be subject to legal challenge. Last month the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina because of its prohibitive bathroom policy, calling it a violation of the “basic guarantees of equal treatment” under the U.S. Constitution. Marshall wasn’t able to offer details on the ACLU’s legal response, he said, because he wasn’t aware Oxford officials were considering such legislation until he heard about its passage on his way to work Wednesday morning.