D.C. Starbucks Chains Make Bathrooms Gender-Neutral

Bathroom use is a huge issue for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, who often face harassment in “Men’s” and “Women’s” restrooms. But four years ago, in a huge victory for advocates of transgender equality, the D.C. Human Rights Act was amended to include gender identity as a protected class. Based on the new law, D.C. Council passed regulations to ensure that public accommodations followed the law and were accessible to transgender people.

The law states that businesses in D.C. must “allow individuals the right to use gender-specific restrooms and other gender-specific facilities such as dressing rooms, homeless shelters, and group homes that are consistent with their gender identity or expression.”

Unfortunately, many businesses aren’t actually complying with the law. In 2009, a survey conducted by the D.C. Trans Coalition found that 68 percent of local transgender residents reported harassment, assault, or unequal access to public bathrooms.

Starbucks recently announced that they’ll be making some changes to comply with the law. In each of their 52 locations in D.C., the single-stall “Men’s” and “Women’s” bathrooms will become gender-neutral.

While this may sound like a progressive move from Starbucks, and it certainly is a huge step forward for transgender equality, they should have made the move much sooner.

Typically, laws requiring equal access to public accommodations for transgender people are difficult to enforce — they require a transgender person to experience harassment, prove it was based on their gender identity, and then file a complaint with D.C.’s Office of Human Rights. But D.C.’s law includes a short-cut that required Starbucks to make their bathrooms gender-neutral. Any businesses that have single-stall facilities are required by law to make restrooms available to people regardless of gender, or to make the bathrooms gender-neutral.

Despite this law, gender-specific single-stall bathrooms are still common in D.C. In response, the D.C. Trans Coalition has launched a campaign to encourage businesses to follow the law and make their bathrooms gender-neutral.

Starbucks made a good move to comply with the law and switch their bathrooms. Other D.C. businesses should follow suit. And if they don’t follow suit, they should face consequences for breaking the law. The law is designed to protect transgender residents, but until it’s properly enforced, transgender residents will continue to face harassment when they use public bathrooms.

Photo credit: Steffen