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Major Cleveland Outlet Is Dead Wrong About The City's Transgender Non-Discrimination Law

December 22, 2014 10:28 am ET by Carlos Maza

Cleveland.com, the news portal for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group (NOMG), is grossly misrepresenting an ordinance that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, falsely claiming the measure will open public restrooms to both genders.

The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would close a loophole in the city’s non-discrimination law that currently allows places of public accommodations to deny transgender people access to restrooms and other facilities.

The ordinance would bring Cleveland’s non-discrimination law in line with those of dozens of other major cities – including nearby Columbus -- by essentially removing an exemption in current public accommodations law which allows businesses to refuse bathroom access to transgender people based on their gender identity. That exemption reads:

(g) Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identity or expression due to the denial of access to bathrooms, showers, locker rooms or dressing facilities, provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available;

Removing the loophole is a common sense solution aimed at alleviating the discrimination and violence that transgender people often face when using restrooms that don’t correspond with their gender identity.

But Cleveland.com has repeatedly mischaracterized the ordinance in its reporting, claiming that the measure will open all restrooms up to both sexes.  

In its initial November 6 report on the ordinance, NOMG reporter Leila Atassi inaccurately described the ordinance, writing:

In an effort to help transgendered people feel more comfortable using public restrooms, Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would require businesses to make their restrooms, showers and locker rooms available to both sexes.

Atassi defended her characterization of the ordinance after being criticized on Twitter, and every subsequent report on the measure from Cleveland.com has echoed her misleading description.

NOMG columnist Mark Naymik doubled down on Atassi’s mischaracterization of the ordinance on November 11, writing:

The only way the ordinance can work is to require businesses to make their restrooms, showers and locker rooms available to both sexes -- no questions asked.

Atassi repeated her falsehood about the ordinance in a November 12 article, falsely stating that the ordinance’s sponsors had confirmed that the measure “would have the unintended consequences” of letting men use women’s restrooms: 

Councilman Joe Cimperman and Matt Zone, however, have said in recent interviews that the legislation they've sponsored would have the unintended consequence of requiring business owners to open their restrooms to both sexes.

And Naymik peddled the falsehood again on November 13, calling it a “fact”:

Much of the testimony for and against dealt with the fact that the law would require businesses to open their restrooms and locker rooms to both sexes.

Those reports were followed by an “editorial roundtable” in which two NOMG editorial writers warned that the ordinance might let sexual predators sneak into women’s restrooms.

Cleveland.com’s characterization of the ordinance is grossly inaccurate. As Christopher Clark, counsel at Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office, told Media Matters:

This is an inaccurate and misleading description of the proposed ordinance.  The ordinance would prohibit public accommodations from discriminating on the basis of, among other things, gender identity and expression.  Practically, this means that a person would be permitted to use the public restroom that is consistent with his or her gender identity. A transgender woman, for example, would be permitted to use the women’s restroom. The ordinance would not, however, permit men to use the women’s restroom.

By passing this ordinance, Cleveland would join Eighteen states, the District of Columbia and over 140 local jurisdictions that have laws and ordinances that explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity

Cleveland.com’s misinformation about the ordinance plays into the hands of opponents who falsely suggest that the measure will allow men and sexual predators to sneak into women’s restrooms. It’s a talking point that’s been thoroughly debunked by experts in states and cities with similar policies, but that hasn’t stopped Cleveland.com from treating the horror story as “fact.”

Previously:

Cleveland.com's Editorial Board Stokes Fears Over Transgender Non-Discrimination Law

Laura Ingraham Stokes Fears About Cleveland's Transgender-Inclusive Restrooms

Cleveland.com Falsely Claims Non-Discrimination Law Would Open Women’s Restrooms To Men




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