Multnomah County increases availability of gender-neutral restrooms in its buildings

Tuesday, 6/11/13 - 12:54 pm

Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen signed an executive rule to require gender-neutral restrooms when upgrading or building new county facilities on Tuesday, June 11. The rule makes Multnomah County is the first county in the nation to mandate the accessible restrooms.

The rule is intended to reduce barriers for county visitors and employees and further the Board of County Commissioners’ commitment to ensuring a respectful and equitable environment. According to the rule, gender-specific restrooms may present barriers for transgender individuals, along with families, the elderly and those needing restroom assistance.

“Gender equality is something Multnomah County takes very seriously,” Chair Cogen said. “The county has an important role to play in ensuring diversity and equity in the community, and having gender-neutral restrooms is an important step in reducing inequalities and disparities.”

As part of the rule, all new county buildings, along with remodels of existing ones, will take gender-neutral restrooms into account. For existing facilities, cost-effective strategies will be used such as posting signs to identify existing gender-neutral bathrooms or posting new signs on some current gender-specific restrooms.

The change has already been implemented at the Multnomah Building, which houses the board and central county administration. Signs in the main lobby, at 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., direct visitors and employees to gender-neutral options.

The gender-neutral restrooms will have either single room or multiple stalls which anyone can use, regardless of sex or gender identity. The initiative is also intended to save money and space, as each gender-neutral bathroom will take the place of two gender-specific ones.

“Gender-specific restrooms are structured off of the gender binary system, which is a system that sets the norms, or what you could call ‘cultural rules’ for who counts as a man and who counts as a woman,” said Addie Jones, of the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center. “While it is often assumed and expected that all people fall within the system, it’s not actually reflective of all people’s gender experience.”

The executive rule coincides with Pride Month, an annual series of events celebrated worldwide each June to promote equity and social justice. Providing gender-neutral restrooms, according to the rule, will help further the cause of LGBTQ civil rights equality.

Prism, a Multnomah County employee resource group, also helped prompt the switch. Within Multnomah County, some transgender employees revealed that they were unable to use gender-specific restrooms, causing them to wait hours before seeking bathrooms elsewhere instead.

“These bathrooms often provide a private restroom space for all employees, which I believe everyone can appreciate the need for,” Prism Co-Chair Lucy Forstein said. “There is still work to be done to create these spaces in existing buildings as well as continue other efforts to be more trans-inclusive, but I am proud that Multnomah County is taking this important step.”

The county joins Washington, D.C. and the Philadelphia City Council as a national leader in requiring gender-neutral facilities.

“It’s really a proud day for Multnomah County,” County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said. “I think we all love to be able to walk our talk and this is really a tangible way. And although it’s a small step, it’s going to have huge ramifications.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Frequently asked questions about the county's gender-neutral restrooms rule