The Problem with D.C.’s Illegal Bathrooms
Sometimes she scours the city for hours looking for them, other times she gets their location by way of a tip. Either way, Renee Reopell makes it her business to hunt down at least one law-breaking District restroom a day.
On Saturday, she found herself at Wok and Roll in Chinatown, snapping a few pictures of the commodes there. She explained to the owner that the bathrooms were discriminatory.
She's not some kind of crackpot. D.C. Chapter 8, of Title 4 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations says businesses "with single-occupancy restroom facilities shall use gender-neutral signage for those facilities..." If they don't, Reopell, an intern at the D.C. Center for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community is likely to show up.
Reopell knows that while many might not mind the binary restroom experience, it makes things complicated for transgenders. "There's a huge amount of violence and harassment that happens around bathroom issues," says Reopell.
Conflicts and hate crimes related to transgenders using bathrooms are why her organization, along with the D.C. Trans Coalition, has been working to make sure single occupancy bathrooms in the District comply with the 2006 law aimed at curbing the problem. Reopell does so by talking to the owner of an establishment and by reporting it to the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which might follow-up with things like warnings and fines.
"Almost every single person I talk to has no idea the law exists,"says Reopell."By and large, they're very open to changing their signs." Reopell claims that not just Transgenders benefit when the signs are switched out. Families that have potty training kids can also benefit, as regardless of their gender makeup everyone can feel comfortable entering the loo together.
A new sign doesn't cost entrepreneurs much, explains Reopell, just about $10 to $12. Asked what the signs should look like or say, Reopell promotes minimalism. "We suggest a sign that just says...bathroom."
All the work gets results—as Amanda Hess reports, Starbucks will be changing their signs on Monday.
If it doesn't feel like bathroom access should be an honest-to-goodness political issue, take a moment to remember the civil rights movement. (And also, visit Safe2Pee.org.)
Logo courtesy of the D.C. LGBT Center