OXFORD, Ala.  —  People in Oxford who use public restrooms intended for a gender other than what is listed on their birth certificate could face jail time or heavy fines, under a bathroom ordinance officials passed this week.

The Oxford ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for a person to use a restroom based on their gender identity rather than their gender at birth. Violators of the ordinance could face a $500 fine or up to six months in jail.

Oxford City Council President Steven Waits said in a statement that the ordinance was a response to a new policy announced by Target Corp. allowing transgender employees and shoppers to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. 

Target said its stance on inclusion and equality was reiterated to employees amid heated national debate over laws that LGBT advocates say effectively legalize discrimination against transgender people, according to a post on the company's corporate blog April 19. 

The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign blasted the city's ordinance, saying it raises a number of privacy concerns and questions about how it will be enforced.

 

Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge said the law will be enforced like any other city ordinance, such as noise violations or public indecency.

"If somebody sees something that makes them uncomfortable, they would call the police," he told Al.com. "If the person is still there when the officer arrives, the officer has to witness the crime. Then we take down the person's information, and the person who reported it has to sign out a warrant."

HRC officials said the ordinance is unprecedented in imposing criminal penalties and the city of roughly 21,000 is the first in the nation to pass this kind of law.

"This ordinance is a shameful and vile attack on the rights and privacy of transgender people," HRC Alabama State Manager Eva Walton Kendrick said in a statement. "Transgender people are our neighbors, our co-workers and our fellow churchgoers, and every Alabamian has the right to live their lives without fear of discrimination and prejudice."