In the wake of a controversial North Carolina law designed to keep transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice, a small but growing number of progressive cities have gone the opposite way, taking steps to make public restrooms gender-neutral.
To date, metro areas including Seattle, Philadelphia, Austin, and Washington, D.C., have passed laws requiring single-occupancy bathrooms to be labeled with signs that favor neither men nor women.
And Miami-Dade could soon join: Commissioner Sally Heyman has proposed adding unisex signage to the county’s male/female single-occupancy bathrooms.
"When someone goes in, they can use whatever is appropriate, whichever one they want to use, regardless of what their sexual orientation or gender makeup is," Heyman says. "When it's unoccupied, you go in, and then when you’re done, the next person goes in."
The move comes six months after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation banning transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice, as they have done quietly for decades. Indiana too has proposed a law that would make it a crime to use a bathroom that doesn’t correspond with your sex as described at birth. (It’s unclear if the measure would apply equally to drunk girls sick of waiting in the long women’s line at the club.)
Earlier this year, the California Assembly passed a law mandating single-occupancy bathrooms be labeled gender-neutral, while Target made your bigoted aunt clutch her pearls by announcing that transgender shoppers were free to use the bathrooms of their choice in its stores. This past August, the company pledged to spend $20 million installing single-occupancy gender-neutral bathrooms as a way to be even more accommodating.
Heyman says she proposed the move with efficiency in mind. Making county restrooms gender-neutral should simplify things for a mom with a young son or a father with a daughter. In some cases, she believes it could eliminate the need to make two bathrooms — one for men and one for women — ADA-compliant.
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"It takes care of all needs," Heyman says. "If it’s properly signed, it’s inclusive of everyone and should be of no offense to anybody."
Three signs have been suggested to replace current signage. The first is a standard sign with both male and female figures. The second includes language stating the restroom “may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression.” The third shows male and female figures alongside a person in a wheelchair to indicate handicap access.
"In the grand scheme of things, there’s so much to be concerned about as a lawmaker. If I can just make it a little bit easier for those who have to use the bathroom facility when they’re out in public, instead of amplifying their anxiousness... I think we can help them with a little greater accommodation," Heyman says.