What does public indecency have to do with cross-dressing? Nothing according to prominent transgender rights organizations. So why then is it a part of Fort Lauderdale’s public indecency ordinance?
A throwback to the 80s perhaps?
“The clothing provision is a vestige of decades-old laws against cross-dressing that were ruled unconstitutional decades ago,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for National Center for Transgender Equality. “Fort Lauderdale should take this opportunity to wipe it off the books and ensure it can never be used to justify discriminatory policing or prosecutions.”
The line item in question reads: "Wears the clothing of the opposite sex with the intent thereby to facilitate the commission of a crime or offense” and is found under “Sec. 16-75: Public Indecency.”
The public indecency ordinance was recently thrust into the spotlight because lawmakers are trying to add a provision to it regulating the disposal of urine and feces. This change, along with others, appear to be aimed at the homeless said Nathan Pim, a volunteer with Food Not Bombs, a homeless rights organization. The cross-dressing item has been on the books for years with Pim saying that it has been brought to the city’s attention in the past and has always fallen on deaf ears.
“The city isn’t really interested about talking about these different issues,” Pim said. “[This cross-dressing item] has probably been on the books since the 70s. I couldn’t really get [the city commissioners] to respond to that. I thought it was really absurd.”
Matt Wood, a staff attorney for the Transgender Law Center said called it “unusual” for such language to be included in a law targeting public urination. And further called it dangerous.
“Wearing clothing of any gender is not a criminal act. The language in the ordinance is dangerous because it could be read as conflating wearing clothing of the ‘opposite sex’ with criminal intent,” Wood said. “Most concerning is that the ordinance could be used to criminalize people simply for being transgender, that is just for wearing clothing that corresponds with their gender identity rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.”
Equality Florida questioned the constitutionality of the line item.
"We hope the City of Fort Lauderdale will take this opportunity to eliminate these archaic clothing provisions that appear on their face to be unconstitutional,” said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director for Equality Florida.
SFGN reached out to Dean Trantalis, Fort Lauderdale’s openly gay city commissioner, for comment on this, but has yet hear back.
Trantalis told SFGN on Wednesday that he noticed the offensive language a few weeks ago and has already put in a request to have it addressed and brought up at a future city commission meeting.
“I told him the city manager it was offensive and he agreed,” Trantalis said. “We’re making efforts to go through the process of striking that from the ordinance.”