Oxford, Alabama, City Council Repeals Bathroom Ordinance Targeting Transgender Individuals
The Oxford, Alabama, City Council has repealed on May 4, 2016, an ordinance it passed a week previously that barred transgender people from using a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. (See our article, Oxford, Alabama, City Council Adopts Ordinance Restricting Access to Bathroom Facilities Based on Biological Sex.)
The ordinance made it unlawful for a person to use a bathroom or changing facility within the jurisdiction of the City that did not correspond to the sex indicated on the individual’s birth certificate. Persons deemed to have violated the ordinance could have faced a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a fine of up to $500 or up to six months’ incarceration.
The ordinance quickly garnered national attention and civil rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center, publicly condemned the ordinance. In a letter issued to the Oxford City Council prior to the repeal, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Alabama stated that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection Clause by singling out transgender people for different and unequal treatment. The groups also argued that the ordinance violated the due process clause, “because of its broad reach and lack of enforcement mechanisms,” which, according to the groups, left it unclear “whether people risk arrest simply for failing to carry their birth certificates to the restroom at all times.”
The letter also stated that the ordinance violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in public schools. The letter noted a recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, G.G. v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., No. 15-2056, 2016 LEXIS 7026 (4th Cir. Apr. 19, 2016), in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, accorded deference to the Department of Education’s interpretation of regulations governing toilets, locker rooms and shower facilities. The Department of Education opined that a school must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.
In a special meeting, the Council voted 3-2 to repeal the ordinance. Because the mayor was ill and had not yet signed it, the Council could vote to recall the ordinance. In repealing the ordinance, some Council members expressed concerns regarding whether the ordinance violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
In addition to the repeal of the Oxford ordinance, the U.S. Department of Justice took a similar position in a letter dated May 4, 2016, to North Carolina Governor McCrory. The DOJ stated that North Carolina’s law restricting bathroom access to restrooms based on an individual’s biological sex and not based on an individual’s consistent gender identity violates both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. (See our article, Department of Justice Warns Governor that North Carolina LGBT Law is Unlawful.)