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Multnomah County requiring unisex bathrooms

Jun 11, 2013


By STEVEN DUBOIS
Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — Oregon's most populous county is requiring that gender-neutral bathrooms be included whenever a county-owned building is constructed or remodeled, a move to accommodate transgender employees and visitors.

Multnomah County board Chairman Jeff Cogen signed the executive order Tuesday. The Portland-based county is among the first local governments in the nation to have such a rule. It was patterned on legislation recently approved by the city of Philadelphia and was inspired by a local high school that earlier this year designated six single-occupancy restrooms as unisex.

It's not known how many of the county's 4,500 employees are transgender. County officials, however, say it's not an insignificant number, and the directive will make life better for those who are uncomfortable using men's and women's restrooms.

“What we have is complaints; people who just tell us their stories,” said Kalissa Canyon-Scopes, policy director for the county's Office of Diversity and Equity.

Those stories include transgender employees who must rush home at lunch to use the bathroom, find a business with a single-occupancy toilet or hold it in all day.

Addie Jones, program assistant at Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center, said some transgender residents avoid eating and drinking to lessen their need to use a public bathroom. For them, Jones said, it is preferable to the intimidating looks and embarrassing questions (“Excuse me, don't you know you're in the wrong restroom?”) they get when entering a bathroom assigned for people who don't look like them.

Though the single-occupancy toilets are primarily intended for transgender employees, they will also be a plus for parents who visit county buildings and don't want to use a crowded bathroom when changing a baby's diaper, or for a mother who wants to accompany her young son to the bathroom but feels weird about bringing him into a women's restroom.

The order is not expected to cost much money. The county only one has one construction project in the pipeline, a new Multnomah County Health Department headquarters that will employ 250 workers and include clinics for the public.

The county will also assess its 120 existing buildings to see if they include gender-neutral bathrooms. If they do, signs will be added to alert employees and the public.

In the county's main building, for example, there are traditional men's and women's restrooms on the first floor, but single-toilet bathrooms are on four of the other five floors.

Rather than construct a new bathroom on the first floor, the level most used by the public, the county simple put up a sign that states: “Gender neutral restrooms located on floors 2, 3, 4, 5.”

“That has a very significant practical impact, but not a very significant expense,” Cogen said.

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