Along with implementing its executive order protecting federal employees from discrimination, the White House acknowledged today that it opened its first gender-neutral bathroom.
An all-gender restroom is for the first time available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, confirms a White House spokesman. Alternatively, guests are invited to use whichever bathroom fits with their gender identity.
“The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity," said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, "which is in keeping with the administration’s existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors."
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, had mentioned the policy change in an op-ed today for The Advocate, saying the adminstration had "closely examined" its policies on "restroom access" to help "ensure that everyone who enters this building feels safe and fully respected."
Gender neutral bathrooms, if single-stall, also often offer a safe space to differently abled users, parents with their children, and anyone else seeking privacy.
The push for gender-neutral restrooms in public buildings and workplaces has been one cause taken up by transgender rights activists — and one that's found the most visible sucecss on university campuses — making Jarrett's anouncement feel to many like a win for trans Americans.
"It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Advocate.
Within the past several years, the Obama administration has been increasingly affirming of trans citizens, with Vice President Joe Biden referring in 2012 to transgender discrimination as the "civil rights issue of our time" and President Obama using the word "transgender" (in addition to "lesbian" and "bisexual") in this year's State of the Union Address for the first time ever for any president. Federal employees have had the right to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identiy since 2011.
Last week, in an unprecedented move, the Department of Justice sued an employer over antitrans workplace discrimination, following a December announcement that the federal government will begin interpreting such cases as sex discrimination, which is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the same month, the DOJ announced that trans students are protected from discrimination under Title IX, while recently a federal court clarified that Obamacare prohibits discrimination against trans health care patients.
In announcing that gender-neutral bathrooms are present in White House, the Obama administration now appears to be entering a national conversation about trans citizens' access to bathrooms, as Keisling intimates. The center sees a conservative backlash against the incremental expansion of trans rights. Several states — including Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Nevada — have seen bills introduced that seek to bar trans citizens from using public or school restrooms that accord with their gender identity. Missouri is considering a bill that would stymie the creation of gender-neutral public bathrooms.
Additional reporting by LUCAS GRINDLEY.