TWO YEARS AGO, it was cutting edge to take a stand for more inclusive bathrooms.
With growing recognition of the many challenges and misunderstandings transgender people still face, elected leaders at Multnomah County and administrators at Grant High School moved in 2013 to mandate single-occupancy, gender-neutral restrooms in their facilities.
These days, they've got a lot of company. The city of Austin caught up last year. Seattle hopped aboard in August. Philly's got a gender-neutral restroom law. So does Portland Community College.
And now? Maybe the City of Portland's finally stepping in that direction, too.
"It's long overdue," says Commissioner Nick Fish, who'll put a resolution before city council later this month firmly transporting Portland into the modern era of public restroom policy. "To me it's a no-brainer. It's an equity and civil rights issue."
Fish's office shared a draft of the resolution with me, and it's got some interesting ideas.
Like many similar proposals, Fish is pushing the city to remove gender-specific signage on all city-run single-occupancy restrooms—including facilities in parks and community centers. Fish wants a neutral insignia on these bathrooms within six months of city council passing the resolution.
Next, the policy would mandate that the city include these sorts of bathrooms in all of its new facilities or remodels going forward. That includes the planned full-scale renovation of the Portland Building, which houses around 1,300 city workers.
Most intriguing, though? The resolution Fish is putting forward would direct city staff to look into modifying some of the city's existing multiple-occupancy restrooms into gender-neutral facilities, open to anyone.
I asked Fish how that would work. "Don't know," he said. "Until we have a hearing, I don't know what the receptivity will be to that."
Fish isn't coming up with these ideas on his own. Beyond the forebears in other governments, his staff's been consulting with LGBT advocates at the Q Center, Basic Rights Oregon, and the Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center, along with others.
"Our stakeholder group thought it was quite edgy," Fish said of the idea to convert multi-person bathrooms. (Houston, Texas, it's worth noting, just rejected an anti-discrimination law because of fear-mongering around bathroom use by transgender people. This stuff can get controversial, quick.)
But if Portland's about to push where few (if any) have dared, the policy Fish is promoting is also sort of restrained. In Austin and Seattle, gender-neutral policies weren't confined to city-owned restrooms—they're mandated for any single-occupancy restroom in the city.
That's not so dissimilar from a council decision several weeks ago that will force all public places to use closed captioning on their TVs beginning later this month. But Fish says he's not ready to go there just yet. He'll work on proving the concept in city-owned buildings first.
At any rate, it's about time
"When you do this, the sky doesn't fall," Fish says. "It's a common sense change."