Legislature Expands Gender-Neutral Bathroom Mandate

A gender neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine
Albany lawmakers have broadened the scope of regulations requiring gender-neutral access to single-occupancy bathrooms across New York State.
Reuters/ Lucy Nicholson

One year after the New York State Legislature required single-occupancy bathrooms in state-owned buildings to be gender-neutral, lawmakers took things a big step further with new legislation that expands that requirement to public accommodations like bars, restaurants, and more.

The bill approved by lawmakers last year simply required all single-occupancy bathrooms in state-owned or operated buildings to be designated as gender-neutral, but this year’s bill specifies that similar facilities must be gender-neutral in school districts, charter schools, SUNY, CUNY, and community college campuses, restaurants, bars, mercantile establishments, factories, and state-owned or operated buildings.

State Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn led the legislative effort last year and again this year, while out gay State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell was lead sponsor in the lower house.

Measure builds on law passed past year that covered only state-owned buildings

The legislation, focused on inclusivity for individuals to be able to safely use bathrooms regardless of their gender identity, unanimously cleared the State Assembly before passing the State Senate by a 54-8 margin.

Senate opponents of the bill were upstate Republicans Fred Akshar of Binghamton; Rich Funke of Rochester; Pamela Helming of Geneva and Seneca Falls; Jim Seward of Schoharie, Otsego, and Cortland Counties; George A. Amedore, Jr., of Monroe and Ontario Counties; Joseph A. Griffo of Utica; Robert G. Ortt of Niagara, Orleans, and Monroe Counties; and James Tedisco of Saratoga, Schenectady, Herkimer, Fulton, and Hamilton Counties.

Last year’s measure faced less resistance, perhaps because that bill was more limited in scope. Amedore and Ortt were the only state senators to vote against it.

“This is a proud day for New York,” O’Donnell said in a written statement. “Everyone should be able to access public accommodations without fear of discrimination or harassment, no matter their gender or gender identity. Placing restrictions on who can use public restrooms not only violates individuals’ basic civil rights, it all too often threatens the privacy and safety of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people who are just trying to go about their day. Today, New York State is affirming transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people’s right to be themselves.”

Salazar hailed the bill’s passage as a key step in the right direction for transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary New Yorkers.

“Today we’re taking another step to ensure that TGNC New Yorkers won’t face discrimination in their daily lives,” Salazar wrote in a tweet with a Rainbow Flag emoji.

The New York City Council passed such a measure in June of 2016, when city lawmakers voted to require single-occupancy bathrooms in the five boroughs to be gender-neutral. That bill was also broad enough to cover restaurants, bars, and businesses.

Such establishments covered by the new law will have 90 days to update signs on those facilities to make it clear that individuals can use that bathroom regardless of gender identity.

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