The concept of “men’s” or “women’s” rooms in any municipal-owned facility in Jersey City will soon mean something different, thanks to an executive order issued by Mayor Steven Fulop on March 23. The order would require all municipal facilities to bear a sign on the entrance saying “Gender diversity is welcomed here, please use the restroom that best fits your gender identity or expression.”
Council member Candice Osborne, who has been credited with asking for the executive order, called it a matter of education. “While hate is taught, ignorance exists because we don’t educate.”
“We thank Councilwoman Osborne for her leadership on this,” said city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill. “Jersey City is a diverse community, and we have been a leader in protecting all of its residents.”
As of April 1, the director of public works will modify bathroom facilities to assure the privacy of individual users, the executive order said, which as a minimum will include a locking mechanism controlled by the user of each bathroom stall. In some cases, bathroom facilities can be modified to become single-user facilities.
Gender neutral bathrooms come in two varieties when it comes to transgender issues. One is a single-user bathroom, where only one person at a time can use the facility. The second type involves a large room with multiple toilets or showers where men and women come and go into a common area, and then use stalls.
Some critics believe that as with the Americans with Disabilities Act facilities should be adapted to provide single-user bathrooms to accommodate the transgender community. But for some people with long history of involvement with the Civil Rights movement, this approach resembles very much segregation that once plagued the American South where there were “whites” and “black” facilities.”
What do we mean by transgender?
Transgender, or Trans, generally means someone whose gender differs from the one they were given when they were born. A person may indentify as male or female. Some are in transition and in order to express their chosen gender someone may change their name, pronouns, or style of dress.
While hate is taught, ignorance exists because we don’t educate.” – Candace Osborne
Some may undergo medical transition through hormones or surgery. A transsexual is someone who lives in a different gender than the one in which he or she was born. Someone born as a boy may feel very strongly that she is a girl. She is often called a trans woman. While someone born as a girl may later realize they are really made and this he would be a trans male.
This leads to what is known as gender identity, a person’s internal feeling and the labels he or she uses to identify his or herself, male, female or transgender.
Clara (not her real name) a trans woman from Jersey City said Fulop’s executive order did not affect her directly, but did affect others.
“The issue has not affected me personally as Jersey is a very accepting place, but it is a big deal for the community,” Clara said. “Just so trans people know they will be safe means so much to so many. It makes people feel like they are worthy of legal protection, something trans people don’t always feel. He is a great mayor.”
Pros and cons
In the US and Canada, all-gender bathrooms are becoming more common in businesses and educational institutions, as people become more aware and sensitive to transgender issues.
But critics claim men could enter women’s toilets calling themselves transgender, putting women and children at risk. One college in Canada recently had several men videotaping women in recently-converted facilities.
“In my zip code there are 226 sex offenders on the Megan list,” said Yvonne Balcer, a well-established critic of Fulop. “Those sex offenders now have access to basically the women’s room. Actually, I was thinking of my late mother. She had a weak heart and would have probably dropped dead if a man walked into the women’s restroom. Fulop has his own private restroom in his office. I haven’t read where he is opening up that facility to the public.”
Other critics claim that such facilities put transgender persons at risk of potential violence, although LGBTQ groups claim violence against transgender people can and does happen, and violence against women is a common occurrence in the everyday world.
Some critics do not object to adult facilities, but oppose those in schools with younger children.
But the trend towards gender neutrality appears to be widespread in the U.S., Canada, Britain and elsewhere. The U.S. Navy recently issued orders to replace urinals on all its surface ships with a “gender-neutral” toilet called the “Stainless Sanitary Space System.”
A change of administration means a change in policy
Gender-neutral toilet facilities is not a new idea, although the issue of gender neutral facilities had taken on new meaning over the last decade with the attention on the transgender community.
Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department issued guidelines saying that any school receiving federal funds cannot discriminate based on a student’s transgender status, equating this equal to sex discrimination under previous rulings.
In February, President Donald Trump rescinded this and other federal protections for students, although Fulop, in his executive order, said the Jersey City school district continues the Obama policies, and that municipal facilities will honor those protections as well.
Jersey City joins a number of other cities nationwide such as Austin, Texas, Berkeley, Calif., Philadelphia, Pa., Santa Fe, NM, and Seattle, Wash. in similar modifications to toilet facilities.
Many universities have already established similar policies, adding gender diversity signs to existing bathrooms.
Gender neutrality was one of the key issues in the effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, a move that would have codified gender protections for women (and by default transgender people) in the U.S. Constitution. The ERA failed to get the necessary approval in the designated time frame and so was never adopted.
Gender neutral toilets were a big part of the counter argument made against the ERA, even though private homes have had gender neutral toilets since their inception.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.