California’s Public Bathrooms Could Soon Be Gender Neutral

Nicole Knight

A Democratic-backed bill would require an "all gender" label on all single-occupancy toilet facilities in California businesses, government buildings, and public spaces.

Gender-segregated public bathrooms could go the way of the horse and buggy under a California bill introduced last week.

AB 1732, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require an “all gender” label on all single-occupancy toilet facilities in California businesses, government buildings, and public spaces.

“Signs restricting single-use restroom access by gender create problems of convenience, fairness, and safety,” Ting said in a statement announcing the measure. “‘All gender’ signs will end these problems and ensure everyone’s rights are protected.”

Gender-segregated restrooms are shaping up as a fresh battleground over equal rights and access as states and municipalities seek to expand—and in some cases curb—who can use the bathroom.

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Cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Seattle, Santa Fe, and New York City require businesses and city buildings to designate single-user restrooms as all gender, according to California’s Transgender Law Center. Proposed state legislation in New York and Vermont calls for gender-neutral labeling of single-occupancy bathrooms in public buildings, with the Vermont bill limited to newly constructed or renovated state buildings.

But equal access is not a universal goal. A Republican-backed bill in Indiana would make it a crime punishable by up to one year in jail for a man or trans woman to “knowingly or intentionally [enter] a single sex public facility designed to be used by females,” and vice versa. Two Wisconsin Republicans proposed a bill last fall to bar transgender students from using the restrooms of the gender with which they identify. A revised bill would allow gender-neutral school bathrooms in the state.

“The reality is that these bills aren’t about fighting an actual threat to safety or privacy,” representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality wrote last week. “They’re about criminalizing trans people of all ages just for living as who they are and denying them to right to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.”

The 2011 report “Injustice at Every Turn” found that 63 percent of transgender people surveyed by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force (formerly the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) reported being subjected to wide-ranging discrimination, including physical and sexual assault.

Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, told Rewire that the California bill “will especially reduce the harassment and unnecessary stress” experienced by many transgender people who use a gendered restroom.

Stripping bathrooms of gender-segregating labels is commonly seen as one tool to limit violence against transgender people. But the push for inclusiveness has been met in some corners of the country with fearmongering. In ad campaigns in Houston last fall, opponents of a broad anti-discrimination measure stoked discredited concerns among voters that the law would lead to a spike in sexual assault if cisgender men, who identify as transgender, were permitted to enter “women’s” bathrooms. The measure failed.

“All Californians should have the same freedom to participate in public life, go about their day, and use the bathroom when they need it,” Kris Hayashi, the executive director of Transgender Law Center, said in a statement supporting AB 1732.

The groups Equality California, California NOW, and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association support the bill, which is co-authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco); Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton); and Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

A 2013 California law allows public school students to use facilities such as restrooms that correspond with their gender identity, but doesn’t require a neutral labeling of such facilities.

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