Lafayette, one of the first cities in Indiana to write protections for sexual orientation into its human relations ordinance, is one vote away from adding gender identity to the law, which protects residents from discrimination in employment, business and housing situations.
The vote during Monday evening's city council meeting was unanimously in favor of expanding the ordinance, even though public commenters at City Hall, who numbered more than a dozen, were far less unified in their opinions.
The largest concern among detractors was focused on what has become a central issue in the conversation for transgender rights -- the use of public restrooms. Concerned citizens, such as Jeanna Romein, said if approved, the ordinance would make it easier for male criminals to disguise themselves and prey on women in a public facility.
"We care, [but] we are the larger population,” she said, “and we're speaking with love to say, we're not against you, but we are against the people who are going to take advantage of this.”
Supporters such as Skye Brown, who identifies as a non-binary trans person, said instances involving straight men masquerading as transgender people are rare and often deployed as a red herring in the transgender rights debate.
“Harassment assault and violence are all still illegal,” said Brown, “and this ordinance does not change that.”
Jamie Lynn Keating called the right to work the backbone of the American dream, and said for many people, workplace discrimination can be a matter life and death, adding unemployed transgender people have a higher rate of suicide than those who have a job.
“The whole point of working is to create some kind of self worth for an individual, as well as contributing to creating a profitable employer,” Keating said. “Why can't a transgendered person do this as well as someone who is gender-conforming?”
But Jeff Mikels, a pastor at Lafayette Community Church, says gender identity shouldn't be considered a civil right and believes it would take rights away from cisgender women. He compared transgender people to the Tom Hanks character in the eighties sitcom "Bosom Buddies."
“The show made light of two white men getting an apartment that was supposed to be for women…Two white men stole a societal benefit designed for women and we laughed at it.”
Before the meeting, Mayor Tony Roswarski told the council he supported the law and encouraged them to vote for approval.
The measure requires a final vote in September from the City Council to move forward. If enacted, Lafayette would become the 19th city in Indiana to add gender identity protections to a local human rights ordinance.