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Advocates in disability and LGBTQ communities call Howard’s gender-inclusive restroom bill a ‘great victory’

After the Howard County Council last week unanimously passed legislation to require certain single-user restrooms in the county to be open to anyone, advocates in the disability and LGBTQ communities who testified in support during the legislative process are now looking toward implementation.

Max Crownover, president of the Howard County chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, was one of the people who testified during the council’s public hearing and called the legislation a “no-brainer.”

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“It can be dangerous for transgender and gender nonbinary individuals in some instances to use the restroom if there are not gender-neutral restrooms,” Crownover said.

The legislation was the opposite of most of the bathroom bills that have gotten publicity across the country in recent years, Crownover said. He said he welcomes the inclusivity the bill will hopefully result in.

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“People make it an LGBTQ+ issue, but it’s much larger than that,” Crownover said. “It’s a general, common-sense thing.”

That’s why Council Member Christiana Mercer Rigby said she introduced it in March.

“I think it’s a small but significant change,” Rigby said. “In looking for ways to becoming a more equitable county, this seemed common-sense.”

According to the legislation, this will affect single-user restrooms “for public use with at least one water closet and an outer door that can be locked by the occupant,” including county-owned buildings. The bill does not apply to private restrooms in homes, hospitals or hotels/motels.

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The legislation also requires single-user restrooms to include gender-inclusive signage to identify the restroom. Signage should not include a specific gender and could simply be “Restroom,” “Bathroom” or symbols indicating a restroom’s availability.

Rigby said the required signage will cost no more than $10 per sign.

Ellie Litwack, a University of Maryland senior and Columbia resident, also testified during the legislative process.

“While I do think the multi-user bathrooms are important, to have unanimous bipartisan passage of a bill like this is to me a really great victory. Howard County is a really welcoming place,” Litwack said.

She is pleased the bill passed, but she’s hoping this is the first of many steps toward multi-user, gender-neutral bathrooms. She is pushing for new or renovated restrooms built in the county to be gender-neutral regardless of if they are single or multi-user.

In the current county code, only gender-segregated restrooms are counted toward the number of restrooms needed in a building, Litwack said. The 2021 International Building Code changes that so multi-user, gender-neutral bathrooms can be counted toward a building’s minimum fixture requirements. It’s a change that’s going to be discussed in Howard later this year.

“To me, this is not a trans issue, this is not a one group issue. This has always been a coalition of multiple groups who are impacted by this issue,” Litwack said.

Cindy Parr, executive director of The Arc of Howard County, agrees with Litwack. During the legislative process, Rigby consulted with The Arc, an organization that supports adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“Something like legislation like this to open up opportunities for adequate and appropriate facilities for people who are looking to enjoy the same things everyone is, it gives a great meaning to the word ‘inclusive,’ ” Parr said.

She said the bill gives fair and equitable access to personal care. When individuals with caregivers are being cared for by someone of the opposite sex, public restrooms become difficult to use. It forces caregivers to pre-think where they can and cannot go.

“If they would be out enjoying the community, if there was a situation where they would have to use a facility, they would have to come back to the building to have that type of care performed,” Parr said.

“We as a community [are starting] to realize that things that make us different in some ways are very minimal,” Parr said.

The legislation will be effective beginning June 6.

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