Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Aldermen Push Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Council members working with Equal Rights Commission to advance inclusive policy.

By - Nov 13th, 2019 03:49 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Common Council and Equal Rights Commission are advancing a proposal that would establish gender-inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms in all city-owned buildings.

“We’ve done the homework to ensure that it’s inclusive for all,” said ERC chair Chez Ordoñez at a meeting of the council’s Public Works Committee Wednesday morning. He said the commission has spent substantial time reviewing policy options and exploring the impacts of the issue.

The move comes as part of a nationwide trend recognizing transgender individuals, non-binary individuals, those needing assistance using the restrooms and parents with children.

Research presented to the council by ERC members said that 62 percent of surveyed transgender individuals in Wisconsin have reported avoiding public restrooms over the course of a year for fear of confrontation and 33 percent of transgender Wisconsinites report avoiding eating or drinking to minimize their need to use public restrooms.

“There are some fairly easy ways to start to address this issue,” said urban planner and ERC member Nathan Guequierre. The first step can be as simple as changing single-occupancy restrooms from having male or female signage to gender-neutral signage.

Longer-term steps including redesigning restroom facilities as part of bigger building projects. Guequierre explained how the International Building Code is already being altered to include gender-inclusive facilities and its only a matter of time until Wisconsin updates its code to reflect the changes.

The ERC is receiving backing from Shelley Gregory of Milwaukee-based transgender rights advocacy organization Forge.

“As someone that is transgender, I personally know the challenge of accessing public restrooms in the country and in this city,” said Gregory.

The attorney detailed being labeled an “it” by employees of an unnamed department store when attempting to use a changing room to try on a sweater. “A benign and regular act for most, I was quite literally persecuted by a gaggle of employees who gathered outside the changing room,” said Gregory.

“It is an easy win symbolically and practically for the city,” said Gregory.

“City Hall is known as the place for all people. It’s the people’s house. City buildings are facilities for all people,” said ERC member Tony Snell Rodriguez. “But we need to be affirming to all. We need to drop barriers. We need to provide a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable.”

The city’s enabling resolution states that more than 200 states and municipalities have already adopted inclusive bathroom policies.

The proposal is sponsored by council members Robert Bauman, Cavalier Johnson and Nik Kovac. 

The resolution, which still needs full Common Council approval, but has raised no objections so far, directs the Department of Administration and Department of Public Works to develop policies and procedures to create gender-inclusive restrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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