Gender-neutral Bathrooms a Growing Trend

By Gabrielle Silva

Boston City Hall is making history – and all for under $30.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed in June an executive order to immediately establish two gender-neutral bathrooms on the fifth floor of City Hall just outside his office. Gender-neutral bathrooms are meant to be accessible public facilities that protects all peoples “regardless of gender identity or expression.”, according to Walsh in a press release of his executive order. This makes Boston the fifth city hall in the nation to establish such facilities.

Gender neutral bathroom at Boston City Hall. (Photo by Jumayar Ahmed)

Gender neutral bathroom at Boston City Hall. (Photo by Jumayar Ahmed)

While the city’s decision was significant, the alteration to the bathrooms were relatively simple, said Boston’s LGBT Neighborhood Liaison Jullieanne Doherty. These bathrooms, originally one male and one female, were relabeled with $30 plaques so that both genders were welcome in each.

This decision follows a trend by colleges, restaurants, churches, and even the White House to create a welcoming environment for all people. These types of restrooms have made such a gain that phone applications such as ‘Refuge’ have been developed to aid the search for facilities that do not distinguish between genders.

Restrooms have long been of concern to members of the LGBT community. For the large and growing number of transgender, nonbinary, androgynous, and queer citizens, having to choose between either male or female bathrooms has created a hardship. Beyond that, the lack of welcoming facilities translates as a lack of acceptance and inclusion.

““It doesn’t hurt anyone to create a safe space that didn’t exist before,” said Doherty

Amid the spread of gender-neutral restrooms, concerns have risen. Many teachers, students, and parents worry that school bathrooms without gender boundaries may lead to a growth in sexual assault in their educational communities.

“Any time you tear down the appropriate walls of privacy and modesty, you are increasing the probability of sexual assault,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a non-profit organization that speaks on issues such as same-sex marriage and abstinence.

Boston LGBT activists said City Hall’s attention to this issue began about two decades ago during the first Queer Youth Dance during Pride Week. Dance organizers decided to label bathrooms “gender-neutral” with tape and pieces of paper. This idea resonated with the organization, and Doherty believes that if the youth could make such a drastic change for just one night, she could find support to make these temporary labels permanent.

While these bathrooms have been pushed by the LGBT community, other groups receive advantages. City officials have noted that such facilities could, for example, benefit a boy with disabilities who is attended by a female nurse, or a father assisting his young daughter to the restroom.

Doherty said these small plaques may seem insignificant, but they are huge gains, not only the LGBT community, but for Boston’s community as a whole.

This matter is not up for debate in City Hall.  Boston is dedicated to making their government accessible to anyone. And everyone.

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