Alabama city makes bathroom access by gender identity a crime

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April 27 (Reuters) - An Alabama city appears to be the first in the country to specify criminal penalties for violators of an ordinance requiring people to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates, civil rights groups said on Wednesday.

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The law passed on Tuesday by the city council in Oxford, located about 60 miles east of Birmingham, carries a possible punishment of a $500 fine or six months in jail.

The measure raises the stakes in the U.S. bathroom wars that have caused fierce debate among state lawmakers, school officials and Republican presidential candidates. It goes further than a law enacted last month in North Carolina - which has been boycotted by businesses, entertainers and government workers - since it became the first state to bar transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Related: See North Carolina protests over transgender bathroom law:

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Alabama city makes bathroom access by gender identity a crime
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A display inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features books by authors who support the repeal of HB2 on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A sign next to the men's bathroom inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina denounces North Carolina's HB2 legislation on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A bulletin board inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features upcoming author visits and events scheduled for the bookstore on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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North Carolina's law applies to restrooms and locker rooms in government-owned facilities and schools.

The Oxford ordinance also includes bathrooms in private businesses and explicitly makes violating the provision a crime, the Human Rights Campaign said.

"This is a very concerning expansion of the ways in which trans people are going to be and have been policed," said Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project. "It's essentially just criminalizing trans existence."

Steven Waits, president of the Oxford City Council, said the measure was a response to complaints from residents after retailer Target last week said transgender people and customers could use store bathrooms that matched the gender with which they identify, the Anniston Star reported.

Waits said the council adopted the law "not out of concerns for the 0.3 percent of the population who identify as transgender," but "to protect our women and children," according to the newspaper.

Waits did not reply to a request for comment form Reuters.

Strangio said the law raises constitutional questions and the ACLU was considering taking legal action to block it. The group already has sued North Carolina over its law.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Tom Brown)


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