In a move meant to affirm transgender rights, the Philadelphia City Council passed a bill yesterday requiring certain city restrooms to drop the “men” or “women” signs and become gender-neutral. The Council unanimously approved the measure, which applies to single-stall public restrooms throughout the city. Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of LGBT Affairs drafted the bill and it was introduced to the Council by Councilman Mark Squilla. Mayor Nutter is expected to sign the measure into law.
Nellie Fitzpatrick, the director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, said that the bill would have very little impact for business owners, but would make a tremendous difference to some people using the restrooms. If you own a business, it’s as simple as swapping out a sign, she says. On the other hand, for individuals who identify as transgender, deciding which gendered restroom to use can be a frequent source of stress, frustration, and shame. Due to the harassment and sometimes violence that they face, the issue of public bathrooms can sometimes be so daunting that people avoid going out in public. As Fitzpatrick puts it, the bill is about “eliminating barriers that are unnecessary and should not exist.”
Fitzpatrick points out that the restroom measure is “one of about a million small steps” needed to fight back against the discrimination and violence faced by those who are transgender. Philadelphia is something of a trailblazer in signing the bill, as only a handful of progressive-minded cities across America have done the same. Cities with similar legislation include Washington; Austin, Texas; Seattle; and West Hollywood, California.
The Philadelphia law won’t apply to bathrooms with multiple stalls. It’s interesting to note that there’s already a law on the books, dating back to 2013, that requires new or renovated city-owned buildings to have gender-neutral restrooms. It hasn’t been particularly effective, however, since there isn’t much construction in that area.