City passes gender-neutral bathroom rules

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Tacoma City Council approved an ordinance this week to require restaurants and shops to label single-user restrooms with gender-neutral signs rather than one for male and one for female patrons. The vote was unanimous among the councilmembers attending the meeting. Deputy Mayor Anders Ibsen was absent. The ordinance, sponsored by Councilmembers Lilian Hunter, Robert Thoms and Catherine Ushka, goes into effect next summer and comes as one of the recommendations from the city’s Human Rights Commission and with input from the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights. While a side benefit of the change is to shorten lines commonly found outside of women’s restrooms under the gender-specific signage, the underlining issue of the change is to avoid discrimination of transgender or non-binary patrons based on their biological gender. “Pride at Work, which represents LGBTQ union members and allies, has identified that bathroom access is a constant worry for transgender and non-binary people: 59 percent of transgender people avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations,” according to a city re
port. “Access to bathrooms promotes health and safety. Having gender-neutral, single-occupancy restrooms allow transgender and non-binary people to have more options for restroom facilities without the fear of being verbally harassed while accessing a restroom.” Councilmember Ryan Mello pointed out that the gender-neutral bathroom signage ordinance jumped from idea to final council vote relatively rapidly thanks to the work of organized labor groups, a movement that has long sought improvements in working conditions that range from safety standards to child labor laws, marriage equality and fair wages. “The organized labor movement has done amazing work,” he said. “Here is another example.” Ushka said before the vote that the discussions and feedback leading up to the vote made her proud to be a Tacoman, particularly since she had feared there might have been vocal opposition to the change, given the current political climate. “I have to say I haven’t heard a word of opposition,” she said. The City of Bainbridge Island passed a similar bathroom rule earlier this year. Seattle enacted gender-neutral bathroom rules in 2015. The change in Tacoma goes into effect June 1 after the city notifies businesses and public places of the new ordinance.

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