Transgender activist Dawn Munro pointed out her regular seat at Fergie’s Pub; it was two from the end that’s closest to the bathrooms.
“One of the things that happens when you get to beer number three, at least for an old fart like me, is of course you need to visit the restroom,” Munro told a crowd of over 50 gathered at the Center City Irish bar Nov. 19 to witness Mayor Michael Nutter sign the single-use, gender-neutral bathroom bill into law. It will take effect Jan. 20.
“It’s really important to me that I can do so in safety,” Munro said. “There are bars in this city that I could be taking my life in my hands if I went to the restroom. But there are two things you may do in there and that’s about it. Then you come back out and you order more beer.”
Munro, a resident of the John C. Anderson Apartments, spoke alongside Nutter; Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of the city Office of LGBT Affairs; Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations; and Mayor-elect Jim Kenney.
Other officials in attendance included members of the Gay Officer Action League; Sgt. Robert Ryan from the Philadelphia Police Recruiting Unit; Officer Ryan Rodriquez, a 20-year veteran of the department and member of the transgender community; and two representatives from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
Fitzpatrick encouraged the officials to take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the transgender individuals in the crowd.
“We have a very diverse group of transgender members from our transgender communities here today,” she said. “That’s important to begin to understand that there is not one trans narrative.”
Following the bill signing, Fergus Carey, owner of Fergie’s, changed the signs that mark his establishment’s two bathrooms so that they simply say “Bathroom,” instead of designating the spaces for men and women. Each bathroom at the pub is a single-use space, meaning it contains only one toilet and sink.
“Something so simple as changing the signage on the bathroom to make it gender-neutral will actually make a huge impact on the lives of so many Philadelphians,” Nutter said. “It will alleviate the stress and fear that many members of our transgender community feel when they need to use the restroom.”
“Our goal is for Philadelphia to be the most LGBT-friendly city in the world and a leader on equality issues,” he said. “This bill is a significant step toward meeting those goals.”
The bathroom bill, introduced in September by Councilman Mark Squilla, requires retail establishments, city-owned buildings and any entity that owns or leases a structure open to the public to mark all single-use bathrooms with signs that do not specify gender. The legislation does not impact bathrooms with multiple stalls.
In addition to making it easier for transgender and gender-nonconforming people to access a public restroom, supporters also expect it to help caretakers with opposite-sex charges and parents with children.
Fitzpatrick said many existing single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms in Philadelphia are marked with “W.C.” for water closet. A map of gender-neutral bathrooms in the city, created by the Office of LGBT Affairs, is available here: http://ow.ly/S39EM.
The Department of Licenses and Inspections will enforce the new bill, Nutter said. People can contact Philadelphia 311 at 215-686-2463 to report an establishment that has not put gender-neutral signs outside its single-use bathrooms after the bill’s Jan. 20 effective date. They can also tweet @Philly311 with the hashtag #FreetoPHL.
Gender identity was included as a protected class in the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance in 2002, said Landau.
She added that her office handles discrimination cases in employment, housing and public accommodations. Bathroom issues came up far too frequently in the commission’s employment and public-accommodations cases, Landau said, noting it was about time for Philadelphia to embrace single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms. She said the Commission on Human Relations would continue to advocate for transgender people through Kenney’s administration.
“What we should be about as a government is to be fair to people, to treat people with dignity, treat people with respect and understand that all of us, regardless of our station, are human beings,” Kenney said.