Bathroom Access and the Trans Community: What DC is Doing Right
written by David Mariner and Holly Goldmann
A transgender women experiencing violence simply for using the restroom? For those of us who have lived in DC for a while, we know the recent experience of Ebony Belcher at Giant Foods is nothing new. Thankfully, it happens less often than it used to in the District, but it still happens. In 2010 two transender Latina women in the Columbia Heights neighborhood were attacked after they had used a public restroom in a local business. The suspect was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
Since that time (and many years before) DC activists have spent a lot of time working on “the bathroom issue.” While it is frustrating to hear about what happened to Ebony, we can take solace in the fact that DC has made progress. Most importantly, the police arrested the right person. Affirming Ebony’s right to use the bathroom, the police arrested the security guard for the assault that occured when the guard tried to remove her from the bathroom. Sadly, we know now there are many parts of the country where that would not have happened.
So how did we get to this point? Here are some tipes on the progress we’ve made, and how we can move the ball even farther forward.
The local law is on our side.
The Human Rights law is clear as day in DC. Transgender women are women, and transgender men are men. Everyone, including genderqueer, gender non-binary or gender non-conforming folks, can use the bathroom they choose.
We also require single stall restrooms to be all-gender
Any business in the District of Columbia that has a single-stall restroom, is required to make that restroom gender-neutral (or all-gender). Simply put, there is no reason to have a gender marker on a bathroom made for one person. Having more all-gender restrooms in the city makes it easier, less stressful,and safer for trans and gender non-conforming folks to pee in peace. If you happen to notice a restroom in a DC business that is non-compliant with this law, simply take a picture with your phone and tweet the information using hashtag #safebathroomsdc. The Office of Human Rights will then follow up on that business.
The conversation does not begin or end in the bathroom.
In this moment where there is a national focus on the transgender community, it is important to expand the conversation beyond bathrooms. The DC Office of Human Rights has recently documented the very real employment discrimination transgender individuals experience in the District. The Equal Rights Center in DC has recently conducted a study documenting discrimination transgender women experience in retail settings. The Washington DC Transgender Needs Assesment further documents numerous disparities and challenges faced by our local transgender community, and particularly transgender women of color. Now is the time to shift the conversation so our communities better understand all of the challenges transgender individuals face.
What’s next? All-Gender Restrooms in DC Government Building.
Finally, it’s important to notice that there is still much work to do on this issue. It is very disappointing that so few DC government buildings have all-gender restrooms. The Reeves Center, a government building that houses both the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs as well as the DC Center for the LGBT Community, still does not have a permanent all-gender restroom. This needs to change, but so do other government buildings. In fact every large DC government building with more than 10 public restrooms, should have at least one dedicated all-gender restroom. The work continues ….