Multnomah County, which includes Portland, just became one of the first in the country to require gender-neutral, single-occupancy restrooms in all future construction projects. The executive order, signed Tuesday morning by county board chair Jeff Cogen, was created to get rid of stigmas for those who are transgender. The bill was intentionally signed this month to line up with Multnomah County’s LGBTQ Pride Month.
Cogen tells The Oregonian,
There is no doubt that there will be people who will be opposed to this. … But for us, it’s all about equity and fairness. It’s about us walking our talk.
This comes just a month after Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter signed similar legislation that required city-owned buildings to include gender-neutral bathrooms. Under this legislation, Philadelphia also became the first city to offer tax credits to companies that give LGBT employees’ domestic partners and children the option to be covered under a company’s health care.
Students who attend Grant High School in Northeast Portland were ahead of the game—they already lobbied their school to be more inclusive, and four student bathrooms plus two staff bathrooms were remodeled to be gender-neutral.
For most, going into a restroom labeled by gender is no big deal. But transgender individuals sometimes may feel uncomfortable using restrooms segregated by sex. A transgender student named Scott Morrison from Grant High even stopped drinking water at school so he wouldn’t have to visit a restroom and face the anxiety of which to go in, according to The Oregonian. Now that his school offers gender-neutral bathrooms, he says, “You don’t even have to think about it, and that’s great.”
Changing bathrooms to make them gender-neutral is literally a small price to pay to make sure people feel comfortable—remodeling six bathrooms at Grant High, for example, cost less than $500. And single-occupancy bathrooms don’t only benefit transgender people: Those with disabilities, mothers who want to breastfeed in private and parents who need a diaper-changing room are just a few examples of others who might benefit from the change.
But some people don’t like change. In fact, an old argument against the Equal Rights Amendment has been that it would lead to unisex bathrooms being required nationwide (horrors!). And in March, Republican State Rep. John Kavanagh proposed a bill in Arizona that would have made it illegal for anyone to use a bathroom not designated for his or her birth sex. (Kavanagh recently put the issue on hold till next year.)
As gender-neutral bathrooms become more and more common, many of us won’t be affected much by the change. But for some, it makes all the difference. Cogen tells The Oregonian,
Some folks have told us they literally have to wait and go home during the day to go to the bathroom. … Clearly, that is suffering no one should have to endure.
Photo of Ms. Magazine’s bathroom sign.