Legislation is being introduced that would require publicly available, single-occupancy restrooms in both public and private buildings to be designated as gender-neutral. It would also amend the language of some city laws, including the plumbing code, which requires separate lavatories for men and women.
"This is a very important issue," said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose office is releasing a report Friday recommending the changes. "It's time to help individuals who identify as transgender to use the bathroom without fear of consequence."
The law would require businesses to place new signage on existing restrooms to identify them as gender-neutral. It would not apply to multistall lavatories.
"We're not talking about constructing new bathrooms or spending any money, except basically purchasing a sign," Stringer said. "Just putting a sign on an existing bathroom will go a long way to reducing discrimination."
New York's proposal follows similar laws enacted over the last decade in municipalities across the country, including Philadelphia, West Hollywood and the District of Columbia.
Eoghann Renfroe, the manager of transgender education and advocacy at the Empire State Pride Agenda, said Friday that Stringer's proposal was needed in New York and was a common-sense approach to tackling one avenue of harassment.
"Being transgender, it's not about the bathrooms. It's that other people try to make it that way," said Renfroe, a transgender man. "This step is simply just a way to make things more equal for everybody, to stop transgender people on a basis that doesn't really exist."
Renfroe says he has experienced discrimination when trying to use public restrooms.
"I've been aware that it would not be safe for me to access the facilities appropriate for my gender," he said. "So having a space where a basic necessity of the body, where we can actually go and do that without fear of being assaulted, is pretty important."
Calls to The Building Owners and Managers Association International, which represents commercial property owners and managers, and to the New York State Restaurant Association were not immediately returned.
This story has been corrected to show the spelling on subsequent references of Eoghann's last name is Renfroe, not Renfore.