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Gender Neutral Bathrooms Designs Respond to Controversial North Carolina Law

While the Justice Department and North Carolina duke it out over proper access to bathrooms, many places, including the White House, have designed gender-neutral bathrooms that address many of the problems associated with sex-segregated bathrooms.
May 12, 2016, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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By now, most people have heard of North Carolina's infamous "bathroom law," House Bill (HB) 2, which requires people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificate, potentially violating the civil rights of transgender people, and already costing the Tar Heel State state millions of dollars in economic damages due to boycotts resulting from the law, though the ultimate impact is uncertain.

On Monday the controversy became litigious, when "Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina and the Justice Department sued each other, testing the boundaries of federal civil rights laws in a dispute over public restroom access," write Alan BlinderRichard Pérez-Peña and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times.

Hours after McCrory called on the "U.S. Congress to bring clarity to our national anti-discrimination provisions..., Attorney General Loretta Lynch said no clarification was needed, and she asserted that federal civil rights laws barring discrimination on the basis of sex prohibit laws like the one in North Carolina," write Blinder, Pérez-Peña and Lichtblau.

“They created state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals who simply seek to engage in the most private of functions in a place of safety and security,” she said at a news conference in Washington. “None of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insists that a person pretend to be something or someone that they are not.”

Straying from her usual understated, lawyerly tone, Ms. Lynch, a North Carolina native, grew impassioned as she likened the fight to earlier battles over Jim Crow laws and laws against same-sex marriage.

Do we really need to segregate bathrooms by sex?

"An architect in Chicago is designing and advocating for private gender-neutral bathrooms — essentially a row of individual toilet stalls with doors that open onto a common area where everyone can wash their hands...," writes Emily Peck, business editor for Huffington Post.

Unisex bathrooms like this are cheaper to construct, offer users more privacy and safety and take up less space, said architect Matt Nardella, who owns Moss Design. Plus, there’s more “line equity” — never again will you have to wait in line with a hoard of women while the guys get to go and move on with their lives.

Nardella's design was prompted by the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by the Houston City Council but repealed by the voters last November.

There's another advantage for bathroom gender neutrality that any parent of an opposite sex child can relate to — real safety concerns involved when young children enter segregated-sex adult spaces alone," adds Peck.

Colleges and universities are also making gender-neutral bathrooms more available. The White House even installed a gender-neutral bathroom stall last year.

There's some irony in the North Carolina controversy. HB2 "was prompted by the City of Charlotte’s adoption of an ordinance barring discrimination against gay or transgender people, and specifically allowing people to use bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity," write Blinder, Pérez-Peña and Lichtblau. McCrory, an outspoken proponent of HB2 which nullifies the Charlotte ordinance, was mayor of Charlotte, the largest city in the state, for 14 years.

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Published on Monday, May 9, 2016 in The New York Times
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