Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

D.C. bathroom laws face off

March 1, 2011 - 10:15 AM
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Starbucks rolls out its new signage (Photo: TBD Staff)

In 2006, D.C. amended its Human Rights Act to extend anti-discrimination protection to trans people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Because gender-nonconforming people often face harassment in the gender-binary world of public restrooms, the new protections necessitated a change in scenery for many local bars and restaurants—according to the new regulations, all establishments that are already equipped with single-stall restrooms are required to designate at least one facility as unisex.

Since the change, local LGBT activist groups like the DC Trans Coalition and the DC Center have labored to convince hundreds of local businesses to actually comply with that law. Last year, Starbucks made national news when it went gender-neutral in 52 District locations; numerous other establishments—and at least one D.C. agency—haven't been so quick to act. 

Apparently, D.C.'s office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs didn't get the memo back in 2006. Throughout the gender-neutral restroom campaign, DCRA has been enforcing a separate construction code that actually requires local businesses to maintain gender-specific single-stall facilities.

"The DC Center has filed over 60 complaints with the Office of Human Rights against businesses that were non-compliant with the Human Rights Law," the Center reported yesterday. "Many of these businesses had recently been inspected by DC Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and instructed to have gender-specific bathrooms."

So last week, the DCRA announced that it would suspend enforcement of the gender-specific regulation. Citing "a pending proposal to amend" sections of the construction code, scheduled to be adopted later this year, the DCRA has agreed to "not enforce relevant portions" of the code. Employees have been instructed to stop enforcing the gender-specific bathroom law in new business permit approvals and regular inspections.

Whether or not the DCRA move will inspire lax businesses to actually amend their signage (I took a leak in a gender-specific single-stall in Fox and Hounds over the weekend) remains to be seen. But at least the D.C. government will no longer be actively undermining its anti-discrimination laws. And it only took five years!

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  1. Real Name Real Name

    Real Name

    Mar 01, 2011 - 01:55:03 PM

    What's the point of having genders on "single-stall" (meaning only one person can use the entire room at a time, I presume) in the first place? It's just a bathroom like you have in your home.

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    • Kate1 Kate1

      Kate Ley

      Mar 01, 2011 - 05:47:58 PM

      I never understood that! If only one person is in there at a time, there's really no difference (except, often, the length of the line outside the respective bathrooms, which is why I sometimes ignore the gender designations).

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