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The use of bathrooms has been in the news lately since retailer Target said that gender identity would govern the use of bathrooms in their stores. The decision was a move to make it easier for transgender individuals to use the bathrooms where they felt most comfortable. However, an ordinance in the city of Oxford, Alabama, threatens to jail those who follow this rule, saying that only biological sex can determine which bathrooms should be used.

The Penalty

What can happen if someone ignores the law and uses a bathroom for the gender with which he or she identifies, in keeping with the rule at Target? The individual will be subject to arrest, trial, and six months in jail. Violators could also be fined as much as $500.

The Reasoning

In creating the ordinance, the Oxford City Council said that people who go into a public bathroom do not expect to encounter individuals of the opposite sex, so their expectations should not be violated, regardless of the gender identities of those individuals. The Council also noted that the risk of crime could go up if the rule at Target was followed. Examples of crimes that the Council feels are more likely include molestation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and assault and battery.

There are a few exceptions in the law whereby the Council believes the risk level is lower. For example, a parent can bring a child under 12 years of age into a bathroom, even if that child's biological gender is different than the parent's.

The Future of the Law

Though this is a city ordinance, it's significant because it will shape the direction of civil rights for transgender individuals. It will be critical to keep an eye on the law, especially if legal action is taken against lawmakers or against someone who violates it, then claims that the law is illegal and discriminatory, as is likely to happen. The court rulings that follow will set precedents and could help establish gender-based laws throughout the country.

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