State Assembly bill aims to convert single-use public restrooms into all-gender restrooms

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A bill introduced to the California State Assembly in January marks the latest endeavor in California to convert all single-use public restrooms into all-gender restrooms — an effort that echoes those already made by the University of California and the city of Berkeley.

According to Assemblymember Phil Ting, who introduced Assembly Bill 1732 on Jan. 28, the bill is largely geared toward benefitting transgender individuals, who are often put into uncomfortable or even dangerous situations when doing something as commonplace as using a public toilet. Because the bill, if signed into law, would encompass the entire state of California, Berkeley businesses would be legally obliged to comply.

“(Transgender individuals) oftentimes don’t feel safe going to the restroom,” Ting said. “My hope is that this one piece of law will help them be able to use restrooms safely.”

While AB 1732 has no direct effect on the University of California, which is administratively autonomous from the state under the California Constitution, a movement to convert gender-specific single-occupancy restrooms into gender-inclusive restrooms has already begun within the university. In September 2014, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that the UC Office of the President would take measures to convert all single-user restrooms into all-gender restrooms.

According to UC spokesperson Kate Moser, the overarching goal of UCOP’s plans — which now require new and renovated UC buildings to include gender-inclusive bathrooms — is to guarantee an inclusive and safe environment for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and staff on UC campuses.

At UC Berkeley, several establishments — such as the Bear’s Lair and BAMPFA — have already implemented gender-neutral restrooms, according to campus Real Estate Division spokesperson Christine Shaff. She added that an apparent lack of funding tends to prevent the campus from converting more existing restrooms into the gender-neutral format.

Likewise, Berkeley City Council passed an ordinance June 9 that requires all public single-occupancy restrooms in the city to be designated gender-neutral within 60 days of the ordinance’s passage.

UC Berkeley graduate student Sben Korsh, however, has noted a lack of implementation of the ordinance in local businesses that still have gender-specific single-occupancy restrooms.

Campus graduate student Clare Stinchcombe, who identifies as trans, said she is not optimistic that AB 1732 would produce real change if passed. Stinchcombe — noting that the bill says an inspector “may,” rather than “shall” or “must,” check for compliance with the law — believes that the bill’s language makes gender-neutral single-user bathrooms a more optional than enforceable objective in the state.

Ting said he has been working for more than a year alongside co-authors of AB 1732 and its sponsors — including LGBT rights organizations Equality California and the Transgender Law Center — to draft the bill. He added that the bill has already received support from his colleagues in the Assembly.

AB 1732 will be heard by an Assembly committee in March, Ting said.

Contact Anna Dell’Amico at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adellamico_dc.