Today I will speak with Portland City and Multnomah County employees about an executive order passed in 2013 requiring County-owned buildings to accommodate transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people. The executive order requires the conversion of single user, gender specific restrooms into gender neutral facilities. Since this order was adopted, Multnomah County has converted 141 single-user restrooms, and the City of Portland is now in the process of implementing a similar policy for all City-owned buildings.
The discussion is especially timely considering all of the ink spilled and conversations spent debating what public restrooms TGNC folks ought to use. Socially conservative state legislators continue to attack TGNC people nationwide. In 2016 alone, 22 states are in the process of considering over 100 bills that would prohibit TGNC people from accessing the restroom that matches their gender identity. Mississippi introduced one of the most draconian bills that would make it a felony for TGNC people to access the restroom that aligns with their gender identity, punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and 5 years in prison.
While this regressive bill remains inactive, we all understand the horrifying implications of what happens when these anti-TGNC bills become law. When North Carolina’s House Bill 2 was signed into law, Governor Pat McCrory enshrined state sanctioned discrimination against TGNC people, jeopardizing public safety, health, and well-being, especially for those who are gender non-conforming people. Implementation of this new law has compelled the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene, warning Governor McCrory and the State of North Carolina that it is in direct violation of the federal Civil Rights Act.
Despite all of the attacks on TGNC people, places like New York City, Chicago, and Portland offer beacons of hope. These cities took important steps clarifying that all residents have the right to access the restroom that matches their gender identity, and that all single occupancy restrooms must use gender neutral signage. City officials in these localities are recognizing that leadership is desperately needed to ensure the safety and well-being of all residents, and to dispel misinformation about TGNC people. These City officials also have the advantage of building their implementation efforts off of lessons learned from other jurisdictions like the District of Columbia.
Over a decade ago, the DC Trans Coalition began the #safebathroomsDC campaign in partnership with the District of Columbia’s Office of Human Rights. The campaign’s goal remains the same as when it was first launched – to ensure that every business and public building with single-user restrooms understands protections afforded to TGNC residents under the District’s Human Rights Law, and specifically to take actions in converting every single-user restroom in the District into a gender neutral facility.
A few strategies from the #safebathroomsDC campaign that can be repurposed for other jurisdictions include:
· Building Strategic Alliances. The DC Trans Coalition worked tirelessly in establishing meaningful relationships with key leaders in the Mayor’s Office and the Office of Human Rights. These groups worked in collaboration to raise awareness and engage in the necessary capacity building activities to ensure that residents had a way to report incidents of legal noncompliance, and that the District would take action should a business refuse to accommodate a TGNC person.
· Getting Creative & Leveraging Social Media. The Office of Human Rights welcomed Twitter users in the District to tweet & take pictures of businesses that were out of compliance. Twitter users were encouraged to use the hashtag #safebathroomsDC, and to loop @dchumanrights on the message. The campaign remains active, and users continue to report businesses that are out of compliance with the law.
· Identifying Ally Businesses. One of the campaign’s biggest victories was persuading Starbuck’s 52 locations to convert all of their single user, gender specific restrooms into gender neutral facilities. Within the first few weeks of the campaign, the District already had over 100 new gender neutral facilities. Shortly after these changes, their then competitor, Caribou Coffee, followed a similar path.
Over 200 cities and counties have enacted legal protections empowering TGNC people to access public accommodations in alignment with their gender identities. Even more promising is that 66 percent of Fortune 500 companies have embraced similar workplace protections, and all of the major medical and mental health professional associations have issued statements recognizing that it is essential to the health and well-being of TGNC people to access the restroom that matches their gender identity.
At the end of the day, we know that having privacy and access to restrooms in accordance with our gender is fundamental to our health and well-being. For TGNC people this is especially critical, as it is for other communities like people with disabilities or single parents with children of different genders. To help transform your business into one that is more affirming and accommodating of your TGNC employees and customers, schedule a free consultation today.