We’ve all been there. You’re out enjoying the city — you might be at a theater, or a restaurant or a park — and you need a rest-room. Most New Yorkers take their unfettered access to bathrooms for granted. Yet, every single day, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals must grapple with the fact that their choice may lead to harassment, or worse.
An NYC comptroller’s report, “Restrooms for All,” details the problems faced by transgender people in finding adequate facilities. We must expand the availability of gender-neutral restrooms, and that’s why two-pronged legislation being considered by the City Council makes sense.
First, the law would require single-occupancy rest-rooms open to the public to be updated with gender-neutral signage. Second, the measure would update city codes to allow building owners the choice to designate additional gender-neutral bathrooms. Just as we’ve changed building rules to protect public health and enhance access for disabled Americans, we must encourage policies that provide safe and adequate facilities for all gender identities.
The legislation is similar to bills passed in cities across the country. They have shown how simple and cost-effective proposals regarding restroom access can help provide safe spaces for everyone.
Studies have shown the harmful effects of not offering gender-neutral rest-rooms. In a 2013 survey by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, 70 percent of transgender individuals reported denial of access, verbal harassment or assault when they attempted to use gender-segregated public restrooms. A 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 26 percent of transgender students were excluded from accessing the bathroom at school. As a result of the harassment and humiliation, many transgender Americans avoid public restrooms, a phenomenon that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found can lead to injury and/or illness.
These are not experiences we want anyone to endure in NYC. In the 21st century, it’s time to increase the use of gender-neutral facilities citywide as a step to get out with the old and in with the now.
Scott Stringer is NYC’s comptroller. Daniel Dromm is a council member from Queens who introduced the legislation.