Gender-neutral bathrooms now legal in Minneapolis

The change aims to accommodate the transgender community in the cities

by Barry Lytton

Due to a recently passed resolution, Minneapolis restaurants and bars now have the option to offer gender-neutral, single-user bathrooms as a substitute for gender-segregated restrooms.

City Council members unanimously passed the resolution at a meeting Friday. The change, City Council members said, encourages gender-neutral restrooms throughout the city’s businesses, educational facilities and other buildings, in part to better accommodate the transgender community.

“Being able to have gender-neutral bathrooms is one way to reduce the questioning, the harassment … [and people] having to face potential discriminatory treatment,” said Elizabeth Glidden, who represents Ward 8 on the City Council and co-authored the resolution.

Transgender people have long grappled with gendered bathrooms, City Council members said at Friday’s meeting, and no longer requiring restrooms to be classified by sex is a first step toward equality.

On the University of Minnesota’s campus, there are 52 known gender-neutral bathrooms, according to the University of Minnesota’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally Programs Office.

A few blocks from the edge of the University’s West Bank campus — which alone provides four gender-neutral bathrooms — the Hard Times Cafe has had two for at least 15 years, employee and co-owner Erica Johnson said.

She said transgender employees and customers alike have expressed gratitude to the business for providing the spaces, and to her knowledge, no one has ever complained to management about the gender-neutral bathrooms.

Andrea Jenkins, a transgender female, worked on the measure alongside City Council members as part of the city’s recently established Transgender Issues Work Group. Since March, the group has teamed up with city officials to examine issues facing the transgender community and promote policy changes in hopes of fostering greater equality.

“The bathrooms [were] a really good first step, but we still have more issues that we intend to address, and hopefully [we can] make some substantial changes,” Jenkins said.

The resolution also intends to help others, like families with small children and people with disabilities.

“You often have a reason to go into the restroom with your child, and having that gender-neutral bathroom makes that situation a whole lot easier,” Glidden said. “If the child is a different sex than the parent, there isn’t an issue created.”

For businesses with existing single-occupancy bathrooms that wish to make the switch, there is little cost involved, said Andrew Johnson, who represents Ward 12 on the City Council and co-authored the resolution. The change entails replacing “men’s” and “women’s” bathroom placards with gender-neutral signing, like “unisex” or “family,” he said.

Johnson said the resolution also benefits local companies and establishments.

“The biggest impetus for doing this is to have greater equality and equity in our city — but at the end of the day, this is also a good change for small businesses,” he said, “[by] giving reasonable control to our businesses.”

Johnson said the former bathroom ordinance was one of many “antiquated” city laws.

“I’ve been going through our ordinances and really working to clean up [ones] that don’t make a lot of sense,” he said.