An ordinance passed in Oxford, Alabama, this week prohibiting people from using bathrooms that don’t match their biological sex.
The Oxford ordinance passed on Tuesday makes it it misdemeanor for a transgender person to use a public restroom consistent with their gender identity, and carries a $500 fine and the possibility of jail time for violators.
City Council President Steven Waits told reporters that the measure was a response to Target’s recent decision to let employees and shoppers use whichever facility matches their gender identity, and claimed he received an “overwhelming” number of complaints from residents after the retail giant, which has a store in Oxford, made its announcement last week.
On Wednesday, Mr. Waits said the council sought the law “not out of concerns for the 0.3 percent of the population who identify as transgender,” but “to protect our women and children.”
“It truly is to protect women and children from sexual predators,” he insisted. “It’s not aimed to punish transgenders.”
Within hours of the ordinance’s passage, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama said the organization was weighing whether it should pursue legal action and called the measure an escalation of a “disturbing trend” of anti-transgender discrimination.
“I think the city of Oxford has raised this to yet another level by actually creating a criminal penalty for the use of a restroom,” legal director Randall Marshall told the Anniston Star on Thursday.
As the ACLU considers a lawsuit, however, officials 100 miles away in Hanceville, Alabama, are looking into adopting a similar ordinance of its own.
The Cullman Times reported on Thursday that Dan Willingham, Hanceville’s city attorney, has proposed a measure that would institute a fine “and/or” imprisonment for individuals caught using restrooms that don’t match their biological sex within the city of barely 3,000.
“Whatever you are, that’s between you and God,” Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail told the newspaper. “But there’s a right and wrong here. You shouldn’t be using the bathroom you’re not supposed to be in. I think as a city, we need to make a firm statement on this. You hope you never need to use it.”
In addition to the ACLU, representatives with the Human Rights Campaign lashed out this week upon passage of the Oxford ordinance.
“This anti-transgender law is unprecedented in its establishment of criminal penalties for violations of the law, and raises a myriad of privacy and legal concerns, including questions about how the law will be enforced,” the organization said in a statement.
As of Thursday, Oxford Councilman Mike Henderson said he received “hundreds” of emails, many containing “vulgar language,” since the ordinance was passed on Tuesday, albeit amid messages of praise as well.
“We were more concerned with doing what was right versus how it would be perceived,” Mr. Waits, the council president, told the Anniston Star on Thursday.
That response, he added, “further solidified my stance that we did what was right.”
“We’re going to do what we have to do to keep citizens safe,” Mr. Waits added.