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Friday, March 23 News

Connecticut considers change in gender-neutral bathroom quota

NORWALK — At the Circle Care Center, an LGBTQ health clinic on West Avenue whose clients include both transgender people and non-binary individuals, there is a bathroom that’s open to everyone.

“In a house, you don’t have a female bathroom, a male bathroom,” said the center’s president, Scott Gretz. “Females or males can use that bathroom. I think those kind of bathrooms should be in every building.”

Although Gretz would like all of the bathrooms in the building to be gender-neutral, upstairs, men’s and women’s facilities can be found. “We’re required,” he said. “And I think it’s ridiculous.”

That’s because, currently, Connecticut requires commercial buildings to have a certain number of male and female bathrooms. Originally meant to create “potty parity” for women, whom institutions including Yale Medical School and the U.S. Senate Chamber once did not accommodate, gender quotas now mean that if a facility wants to offer gender-neutral restrooms, they aren’t always able to convert existing bathrooms — a problem that led Yale Law School to file a lawsuit against Connecticut in 2017.

The 2018 state building code may solve that problem by allowing buildings to count gender-neutral single-user bathrooms (as opposed to bathrooms with multiple stalls or urinals) toward their male or female bathroom quota.

Every few years, Connecticut updates its building codes, a process that requires multiple rounds of input and review. When the state opened the floor to public proposals for ways to improve the code, nearly half of the requests — 23 out of 58 — were in support of allowing gender-neutral bathrooms count toward quotas.

“We hope it will allow and encourage business owners to have gender-neutral bathrooms,” said Maya Menlo from OutLaws, an organization of LGBTQ members of the Yale Law School community that wrote suggested building code changes that were echoed by many organizations who submitted public proposals.

For many, gender-neutral bathrooms are a matter of safety.

In Norwalk, LaReissa Skinner and Jeda DeVore, both trans men, said they were forcibly dragged out of the bathroom of a SoNo bar and thrown out of the venue. Skinner assumed the physical altercation stemmed from someone’s belief that he was in the wrong restroom. “I cried outside, and there was a cop, and he was like, ‘I can’t do anything about it,’” he said. He takes note when establishments have gender-neutral bathrooms.

Raven Matherne, a newly elected city representative in Stamford believed to be the state’s first transgender lawmaker, also said she viewed the issue as a matter of safety.

“While I was campaigning, for most of the meetings, I asked: Let’s meet in a Starbucks,” she said. Starbucks locations have individual bathrooms, fitted in many states with gender-neutral signs.

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“My options are limited to the places where I can, well, pee. This shouldn’t be a consideration. But if you’re cisgender, you’ve never had cause to look at this problem,” said Matherne, referring to the term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.

Matherne said she believed the code change was “desperately overdue.”

Advocates believe that, in addition to providing a safety measure for transgender people, gender-neutral bathrooms also benefit parents and caretakers.

“I think it’s always uncomfortable for a parent to take a little boy into the woman’s room. Or to take a little girl into the men’s room,” Gretz said.

“Perhaps they’re a caretaker of a person and have to go into a bathroom with them,” Menlo said. “There is a broader range of people who would benefit from gender-neutral bathrooms.”

The 2018 Building Code is expected to be adopted on July 1. However, Bill Ireland, Norwalk’s chief building official, pointed out that that date has been pushed back in previously as details are wrangled over by various committees.

“We’ve had it happen as late as December 31,” he said. “It’s really not a cut-and-dry, simple process.”

However, supporters believe that this is a small change, given that only single-user bathrooms are impacted — one that can make a big difference.

“I think the main idea is that people should be comfortable,” Gretz said. “That way you can be comfortable, the people around you can be comfortable — everyone will be comfortable.”

rschuetz@hearstmediact.com; @raschuetz