Gender-neutral bathrooms could be the new normal in Philadelphia

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California September 30, 2014.

PHILADELPHIA (Christian Examiner) – In legislation to be introduced this Thursday, the city of Philadelphia might make mandatory the gender-neutral labeling and use of single-occupancy bathrooms throughout the city.

The bill was drafted by Mayor Michael Nutter's office of LGBT affairs. Helen "Nellie" Fitzpatrick the office's director, said the goal of the legislation is to avoid discrimination, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Using a public bathroom can be a highly stressful, rising to even dangerous experience for certain individuals," said Fitzpatrick, referring to the transgendered. According to a 2011 paper by the Williams Institute, 0.3 percent of Americans are transgendered.

The legislation would not affect multi-use men's and women's bathrooms, and it would not change single-use bathrooms with abstract signs, although the latter would be required to make it clear that the bathroom was gender-neutral.

Fitzpatrick said the sign change "basically comes down to people policing other people's gender."

BATHROOM 'POLICE'

If it passed, the bill mandating the gender-neutral designation of single-use bathrooms, Philadelphia would be keeping company with other major cities, including Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and Hollywood, Calif.

The White House also opened an "all-gender" bathroom this year. They said it allows guests and staff to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity without respect to their physical gender.

Because Philadelphians may presently use bathrooms based on their gender identity, the proposed legislation may have been created to address the subject of bathroom users "policing" others' gender.

Fitzpatrick said the bill regards an issue of public safety, allegedly protecting people from hateful or hurtful judgments—though the bill should not be controversial, she said.

"It's a sign change," she said. "We're labeling restrooms as what they are: restrooms, not gender-monitored spaces."

BATHROOM CHOICE UNPOPULAR

Data from a poll conducted by CBS News in 2014 shows that a majority of Americans (59 percent) believe that transgendered students should use bathrooms of their birth gender, rather than their preferred gender (26 percent).

Perhaps because of the apparent unpopularity of transgendered people using bathrooms according to their gender identity, reception of the proposed bill has been positive.

Melissa Bova, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said all the Philadelphian members of her board supported the change.

"I don't know the personal or religious preferences of certain business owners, so I didn't know if it was going to be an issue," Bova said. She said their responses were, "'We're in. Not a problem. Let's go.'"

Though all single-use bathrooms accessible by the public in Philadelphia might soon be labeled as gender-neutral, as before, bathroom users may continue to use the facility of their choice.