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Gender Neutral Bathroom Ordinances Expanding Across the Nation at the City and County Level

By Nathan Devers | April 13, 2016

In the past year, a handful of large localities have either considered or adopted ordinances regulating what are known as “gender neutral bathrooms.” Localities that have passed gender neutral bathroom laws include Austin, Seattle, Philadelphia, and, most recently, Charlotte, NC. The Charlotte ordinance was subsequently preempted by a special session of the North Carolina legislature.

The City Council in Philadelphia passed a gender neutral bathroom ordinance in late 2015 that prohibits businesses from restricting single-stall restrooms to a specific sex. A similar ordinance in Seattle mandates that all public and private single-stall restrooms be designated as all-gender facilities.

Highland Park, Illinois, introduced an ordinance at its April 11, 2016, City Council meeting to require all single-stall restroom facilities within new developments be designated by signage that the facilities are gender neutral. There are some exceptions to the proposed mandate. Highland Park businesses with existing non-gender neutral signage are encouraged, but not required, to comply with the proposed provisions. Also, if a business has only two restrooms, then one must still be designated for men and the other for women according to the Illinois Plumbing Code. Other localities are proposing stricter mandates.

San Francisco has proposed a more expansive mandate. At its April 5, 2016, City Council meeting, city council members proposed language that would require all single-stall restrooms in any business establishment or place of public accommodation, whether existing or proposed, be identified as all-gender by appropriate signage and shall be made available to persons of any gender identify. Existing businesses would have 90 days from the effective date to remove gender-specific signage and replace it with all-gender signage.

Mayors are also moving ahead with executive orders establishing regulations for city agencies and buildings. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) signed an executive order last March requiring NYC agencies to post a new single-sex facility policy in clearly visible locations for employees and the public within three months. The Executive Order applies to City agency offices, public parks, pools, playgrounds, certain museums and recreation centers.

Localities continuing to explore gender neutral bathroom policies may result ultimately in state action—one way or another. In the meantime, the number of localities addressing this issue likely will grow rapidly over the next year.

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