An example of the new signage youll see in city-owned buildings.
An example of the new signage you'll see in city-owned buildings.

As expected, Portland City Council this morning voted to ensure the city joins the ranks of progressive places all over the country making restrooms more-accessible to people, regardless of their gender.

In a 3-0 vote (commissioners Steve Novick and Dan Saltzman were gone), a shorthanded council put into place an "all-user restrooms" policy [pdf] put forward by Commissioner Nick Fish and Mayor Charlie Hales. The policy will result in all single-occupant bathrooms owned and operated by the City of Portlandā€”some 600 of themā€”being open to people no matter their gender identity (also: parents with kids, or disabled people with "personal attendants") by September. But as we noted when we first reported on this effort in December, there's something more innovative at play in the resolution Council passed.

Along with the conversion of single-user restrooms, the city's Office of Management and Finance also plans to convert two multi-person restrooms on the second floor of the Portland Building into gender-neutral spaces. While cities around the country are converting their single-use restroomsā€”and some of those policies go farther than Portland'sā€”the "pilot project" for multi-person restrooms appears to put Portland in the vanguard of cities looking into bathrooms of this type.

The plan, according to Jamie Waltz, a strategic planning and development manager with the city, is to install taller, more-private partitions in the pilot project restrooms, and to collect data about "the experience of the users" as it progresses.

There will be signs on the first floor of the Portland Building directing people who'd like to use an all-user restroom to the second floor. The conversion will occur in mid-July.

The plan was widely accepted by the three council members on hand this morning, though Commissioner Amanda Fritz wondered why the city had elected to put the all-user restrooms on the second floor rather than the first.

Ultimately, Waltz suggested, the restroom pilot could influence how the city renovates the Portland Buildingā€”a massive, potentially $195 million effort that's looming on the horizon. That planned overhaul also means the restrooms will be necessarily temporary in their planned form.

"With the Portland Building reconstruction, we have an opportunity to create thoughtful approaches in that building," Waltz said.

Restrooms have (once again) become a civil rights battleground in the country, with backwards policies in North Carolina and a dispiriting vote in Houston influenced by fear-mongering, but also a lot of cities figuring out that single-user neutral restrooms are a good way to better provide for a basic human right. Portland's showing a willingness to take another step.

For transgender people who can face skeptical looks (and far, far worse) when they enter a restroom that best matches their gender identity, neutral spaces can help alleviate concern.

"This is a big move," says Diane Goodwin, with advocacy group Basic Rights Oregon. BRO assisted in coming up with the policies council voted on this morning. "We need to figure out how to create safe spaces for everyone. Everyone's concerned about safetyā€”particularly transgender people," Goodwin says.

To be clear, Portland's not the first place dabbling in this concept. Reed College has gender-neutral restrooms with multiple stalls in two buildings on its campus. Earlier this year, a public school in Los Angeles converted one of its restrooms.

And there's talk of something similar in at least one Portland school. Goodwin says BRO is currently writing a letter in support of Lincoln High School converting a multiple-person bathroom to a gender-neutral. Lincoln Principal Peyton Chapman tells the Mercury "students have been researching and creating a very thorough proposal to create a multi-stall gender neutral bathroom at Lincoln next year."

Chapman notes, though: "The students know that the proposal will need to be approved by PPS first and get support from Facilities for suggested improvements if approved. We are supportive of their research and their civic involvement as well as their desire to improve their school community."