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Gender-Neutral Bathroom Bill Gives Philly Trans Folk Hope

MICHAEL NUTTER

Single-occupant public restrooms in Philadelphia would have to be designated gender-neutral if a bill introduced Thursday before Philadelphia’s City Council becomes law, reports the city's Daily News. 

The proposed legislation reflects the views of top public officials like Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, who championed trans-inclusive accommodations in an April commentary penned for The Advocate the same month that the White House created its first gender-neutral bathroom.

Philadelphia's bill is an effort to make good on promises set down in the LGBT equal rights law that Mayor Michael Nutter (pictured above) signed two years ago to fulfill his stated goal “for Philadelphia to be one of, if not the most, LGBT-friendly cities in the world and a leader on equality issues," according to a report in The Advocate. The newly introduced legislation does not apply to multiple-occupancy public bathrooms in the city.

Council member Anthony Squilla introduced the bill on behalf of the Nutter administration, the Daily News reports. "It's making it comfortable for everyone, whether you're a transgender person, whether you're a straight person or a gay person," Squilla said.

"Using a public bathroom can be a highly stressful, rising to even dangerous experience for certain individuals. It basically comes down to people policing other people's gender,” Helen "Nellie" L. Fitzpatrick, director of Mayor Nutter's Office of LGBT Affairs, told another Philly paper, The Inquirer, in an article published yesterday. Fitzpatrick is helping to shepherd the bill through the legislative process.

The hashtag #WeJustNeedToPee went viral over the summer on social media as trans women and men posted selfies of themselves in restrooms of the gender they were assigned at birth, adding signs to highlight how ill-fitting their presence was in bathrooms that do not comport with their gender identity. 

The news from Philadelphia comes on the heels of reports of probelms surrounding bathroom access for transgender people, including trans high school students Lila Perry and Gavin Grimm, as well as legislation like Florida’s failed transphobic bathroom bill. Florida’s bill was part of a movement by right-wing lawmakers in several states, such as Texas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nevada, to police transgender and gender-nonconforming people’s attempts to use the bathroom safely privately, and efficiently without mistreatment.

As for claims that cisgender or heterosexual people would be attacked by transgender people using restrooms commensurate with their gender identity, The Advocate has pointed out that there are no reported cases of attacks by trans individuals in bathrooms. On the contrary, it is transgender individuals like Chrissy Lee Polis who are most in danger as they seek to peacefully relieve themselves. Polis was attacked for being a trans woman at a McDonald’s in Baltimore in 2011, as The Advocate documented.

Problems with inclusive bathroom access have even spilled over into the Brooklyn Supreme Court, where where the judge who oversees the court's efforts to create a gender-neutral restroom has been stymied by persons who take down the sign that designates the facility as gender-neutral, as the ABA Journal detailed this week. Justice Lawrence Knipel decried the shenanigans in his court, and he put up a sign himself, saying that the sign thieves would be caught and the consequences would be severe: If they are employees, they may be fired, and if they are lawyers they may be disbarred.

Tags: Transgender

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