While some states continue to pass restrictive laws that make it illegal for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals to use single-sex restrooms that don't match the gender listed on their birth certificates, New York City has taken a step in the opposite direction: yesterday, the City Council passed a bill that will require all existing single-stall restrooms to be gender neutral.
Such legislation was first proposed last summer by Comptroller Scott Stringer, who cited statistics that illuminate the discrimination that transgender people face each day: one federal survey found that 90% of transgender individuals have experienced harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job, and 50% have been denied a promotion, lost a job, or experienced another adverse outcome because of their gender identity.
NYC's Human Rights Law makes it illegal to prevent anyone from using a single-sex facility consistent with the gender with which they identify, but things aren't quite so black and white for non-binary or genderqueer individuals who don't identify within the male/female binary. And, as advocates testified before the City Council at a hearing on the bill back in January, many transgender people experience severe anxiety when using multi-stall restrooms that align with their gender identity, thanks to a long history of bathroom-based violence against transgender people.
The bill passed the City Council 47-2, with negative votes from Republican Councilmembers Steven Matteo and Joseph Borelli, both of whom represent Staten Island. The measure, once approved by Mayor de Blasio, will go into effect on January 1st.
"Every New Yorker, regardless of their gender identity or expression, deserves equal access to public facilities—and that includes public restrooms," Stringer said in a statement. "At a time when other states are limiting the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming Americans, New York City is taking the lead on equal protection and equal rights...I urge the Mayor to sign it without delay."
LGBT advocates similarly hailed the bill as an important step forward: Glennda Testone, Executive Director of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, said that "having gender neutral single-stall restrooms is just plain good, common sense," and Noah Lewis, a staff attorney at the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, noted that it "stands in sharp contrast to the wave of anti-transgender legislation recently introduced around the nation and enacted in North Carolina and Mississippi."
"It's a really timely and important step, and I was very glad to see it particularly this month, in the wake of everything that's happened and the Orlando tragedy," added Dru Levasseur, director of Lambda Legal's Transgender Rights Project. "Any visible step from a city government standing up for transgender people is incredibly powerful and necessary."
The bill now goes before Mayor de Blasio, who's expected to sign it. Earlier this month, the mayor announced a new ad campaign encouraging New Yorkers to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, and at that time, he said that "no one deserves to be denied access to bathrooms or discriminated against for being who they are. Every New Yorker has the legal right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, no questions asked."