When I first started working at The GLBT Community Center of Colorado I was surprised by the restroom signs. Here at The Center we have single use restrooms on each floor, or what I grew up calling “unisex” restrooms. However, as you can see in the photo above, our restroom signs have been covered over with other signs listing each restroom as gender neutral, or for any person. Underneath these colorful signs are the original signs that say “men” and “women.”
It wasn’t until I was researching my TEDx Talk topic last summer that I understood why the men’s and women’s signs were required to be installed. Denver building code rules previously required multiple one stall restrooms to be marked men’s and women’s. In other words, if a location had one single use restroom it could be marked gender neutral or unisex – but if it had two or more single use restrooms they had to be marked men’s and women’s.
So why does it matter what a sign says? There are many people that benefit from single use restrooms that are open to anyone. As a woman who has waited in plenty of women’s restroom lines and eyed the empty men’s room I can easily attest that it is wonderful to be able to use any open and available restroom. Gender neutral restrooms are also beneficial for those who may be caregivers for a disabled parent or relative of the opposite gender. My sister has told me many times how challenging it is for her to take my young nephew to the restroom in public locations as he’s too young to be left alone to wait for her outside. And of course gender neutral restrooms make it easier for transgender and even those who don’t look traditionally masculine or feminine to use the restroom without fear of being intercepted.
In late December, Denver City Council voted unanimously to update the 2016 Denver Building and Fire Code to require that “all existing and new single-stall restrooms (any toilet facility that contains a single toilet and sink and is designed for use by one person at a time) will be required to provide signs designating them as gender neutral instead of men’s or women’s.” This change brings Denver in line with other cities like Seattle, West Hollywood, Berkeley, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Austin, and Portland (Multnomah County, Oregon). Property owners and tenants have until May 1, 2018 to update their affected signage. This update does not impact multi-use restrooms which will remain gender-specific.
Denver is not specifying which gender neutral signs are acceptable but simply saying that the sign “must make it clear that the bathroom is open to use by all.” Helpful examples of acceptable sign options are available here on the second page.
For help in your workplace surrounding LGBT awareness contact Kelly Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org.