[Note: In a weird set of occurrences that have to do with Internet rules I don’t understand, a law that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed in May is coming back up in my news feeds. Since I didn’t catch this when it happened, and since I’m a Philadelphia citizen, I figure I might as well write about it now. ~GL]
Philadelphia Mayor Nutter signed a bill this past May that takes some of the first steps in a brave new world for LGBT acceptance. The new Philly law mandates the creation of gender-neutral, single-use restrooms in all new government buildings. The move to add gender-neutral restrooms in government buildings is an easy, costless fix to part of the discrimination and sometimes violence that has been plaguing transgendered people in Philadelphia and around the country.
When considering the new bill, Philadelphia Councilman Jim Keeney said that “[i]t can be an awkward and embarrassing situation,” for transgendered people attempting to use public restrooms. But the reality often goes far beyond “awkward.”
It is not “awkward” when over 50% of transgendered people are openly harassed in public accommodations or by police officers and government officials. It is not “awkward” when transgender people are outright denied access to the restroom that matches their gender identity and not what people see them as. It goes way, way past “awkward” when transgendered persons are beaten for attempting to use the public restroom they feel fits them best
It may be awkward for people who are not transgendered to see violence and discrimination on a set of people who have done nothing wrong, but it is nothing short of terrifying to the people who experience this discrimination, and the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms is one of the few things governments can do to make their lives easier.
With a law like this, there have, of course, been some who disagree. One of the more reasonable complaints is that providing gender-neutral restrooms would cost the city more money. Reasonable, perhaps, but not particularly well-founded. Though it is unclear precisely what the cost of creating single-stall restrooms are, in some cases they may cost nothing at all. According to Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, providing gender-neutral restrooms would not cost the city extra money at all. Single-use, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms are already required in all of its buildings. To repurpose these restrooms, all government contractors would have to do is make a new sign. Such a small cost to make a big difference in the lives of thousands in the city.
Other naysayers of the new law have expressed concern that gender-neutral bathrooms would lead to a rise in sexual predators who can violate victims in restrooms. To this, I don’t know what “women” or “men” sign would keep out a person intent on assaulting someone else. In fact, we already see that such signs do not keep predators away.
More ridiculous, but sadly not less prevalent, arguments against gender-neutral bathrooms fall along the lines of misunderstanding transgender people: “If I feel like an elephant, do I get a special restroom for elephants?” I suppose I know that some people still think that different genders are different species, but allow me to assure those people that the difference is indeed vast. Regardless, it is not the place of government to make sweeping statements about the nature of gender, sexuality, or identity. It is certainly part of government’s job to make sure its citizens have equal access to the services it provides, and providing for gender-neutral bathrooms is one easy way to do that.
As long as making those adjustments for people do not violate the rights of others or cost taxpayers a large, needless expense, I see no reason why state and local governments should not make their buildings as open to these people as possible. The new Philadelphia law mandating gender-neutral bathrooms in government buildings does this, and other government bodies should do the same. And who knows? It may be the first step in showing people that they have nothing to fear from transgender people in the first place.