Law director: Xenia not discussing trans restroom ordinance, unclear if they can

Xenia’s law director says city council has not discussed creating an ordinance regarding transgender restroom use, contrary to public statements made by the council president after a trans woman was charged with public indecency in Xenia Municipal Court for using the women’s locker room at the Xenia YMCA.

Whether the city even could create such an ordinance remains unclear.

The transgender woman who used changing facilities at the Xenia YMCA was charged with three counts of public indecency in December. The charges were filed after three alleged incidents of the individual using female locker room facilities over the course of the past year.

During a presentation made to the Greene County Tea Party on Jan. 24, Xenia City Council President Will Urschel said if the city is successful in prosecuting her, they may go after the YMCA next, and floated the idea that Xenia might become the first city in Ohio to exclude LGBTQ protections in public accommodations.

“We are also investigating that we, as Xenia, would say ‘no, gender identification is not protected under public accommodations,’” Urschel said, adding that “we are waiting for the results of the court case,” to consider any such legislation.

Xenia’s Law Director Donnette Fisher directly contradicted Urschel’s statements, saying that neither city council, nor any of its members had any part in the decision to file charges against the transgender individual, and no such conversations between Xenia City Council, as an elected body, and city staff have taken place.

“There has been no direction from council to any city staff member regarding the legislation alluded to in Mr. Urschel’s comments. Indeed, the council has never even discussed the matter,” she said.

To address any appearance of impropriety raised by Urschel’s comments, the Xenia Law Department offered to the defense to appoint an independent, special prosecutor on the case, Fisher said. As of Wednesday, the defense has not taken them up on it.

Urschel’s remarks drew condemnation from LGBT advocacy groups, as well as local Democrats.

“We will not stand by and watch our government essentially remove protections from any class of people,” said Kim McCarthy, chair of the Greene County Democratic Party.

Some cities have adopted their own non-discrimination ordinances under Ohio’s “Home Rule” laws, including Dayton and Yellow Springs. To date, 35 Ohio cities have adopted LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances, including discrimination based on gender identity.

But so far no Ohio cities have done the opposite, as Urschel suggests.

The Greater Dayton YMCA in November said that they adhere to Ohio Civil Rights Commission rulings and federal anti-discrimination laws which allow all members access to its facilities and programs, regardless of gender identity.

State law however does not clearly protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination, according to nonprofit Equality Ohio.

The Ohio Fairness Act has been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly more than once to clarify that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal. However, similar LGBTQ nondiscrimination bills in Ohio have long either been voted down or died in committee, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio website. The ACLU of Ohio did not respond to requests for comment.

Greene County is still awaiting a response from the Ohio Attorney General about whether state anti-discrimination law applies to public restrooms in city buildings and parks as well. Greene County Prosecutor David Hayes requested the AG opinion last year at the request of Xenia officials.

“There does seem to be some confusion in Ohio right now regarding the definition of ‘sex’ in terms of public accommodation discrimination,” Fisher said.

“If the Ohio Civil Rights Commission is correct that sex is ‘inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity,’ then why the need for the Ohio Fairness Act? It is because of this contradiction, and to assure that governmental entities in Greene County are properly complying with the law, that County Prosecutor David Hayes requested clarification on the current status of the law from the Ohio Attorney General.”

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