An antiquated Minneapolis code relating to the service industry forces many businesses to have gendered restrooms, but a policy change passed by a city committee could change that.
At the Health, Environment, and Community Engagement Committee meeting on Monday morning, community members voiced their support for change to city code that would allow businesses to make their facilities more accessible for transgender customers.
Tom DeGree, owner of Wilde Roast Cafe and Matties on Main, testified about the challenges his business has faced as it has expanded.
DeGree noted that ten years ago when he and his partner opened Wilde Roast Cafe, a LGBT coffee shop in northeast Minneapolis, the business was able to have two nongender bathrooms.
“A lot of the transgender community found us as a safe place, and from an economic stance, it’s best to have people have a safe place,” he said.
But as business grew and they opened Wilde Roast in a new location on the riverfront, the business bumped up against the city code.
The new building “had two predetermined bathrooms. A lot of people from the transgender community didn’t feel as comfortable and voiced their concerns.”
When DeGree opened Mattie’s on Main earlier this year, they decided to buck the city code.
“We were told by the city that we had to have very specific bathrooms that had male and female on them,” he said. But the business decided to go ahead with gender neutral bathrooms. “When we opened up and went forward with business in May, we just did it.”
Council member Cam Gordon quipped, “I don’t think anybody [from the city] is going to come after you.”
The proposed city changes would mean non-gendered, single-user restrooms can be put in place of gendered facilities for small businesses.
Many testifiers noted that making restrooms trans-friendly actually makes them friendlier for just about everyone.
Dylan Flunker, a transgender parent of a 3 year old, noted, “Before I was able to medically transition, I had a lot of uneasy bathroom experiences.”
“When using the appropriate bathroom for your gender, people would say, ‘What are you doing?’” Flunker said it was “a very uneasy 3-4 year period of my life where I did not use public restrooms.”
Now, as a parent with a 3 year old, Flunker notes that single use, gender neutral facilities are great for parents.
“When 3 year old has to go, she has to go and single stall bathrooms are the easiest for us to access.”
Claire, male-to-female transgender woman, relayed her experiences.
“With obvious issues of me being transgender and using gender specific bathrooms… I have been accosted and threatened in male bathrooms, and questioned and peaked on in female bathrooms. Technically, I’m not allowed in anybody’s bathrooms.”
Claire noted that many of Minneapolis’ suburbs allow for gender neutral restrooms. “I think it’s time Minneapolis caught up with the suburbs and do what needs to be done.”
She also noted that she has three children with disabilities and one is a teenager. That makes it difficult to use gendered facilities.
The proposed changes passed the committee unanimously. They were proposed by City Council member Andrew Johnson of the 12th Ward. He’d been working on the issue accessible restrooms before he ran for office.
Johnson said, “It’s a great ordinance…. for anybody who’s had to needlessly wait for a restroom and for the all the far more important issues raised today around transgender issues and the assistance ability for the disabled.”
Council member Lisa bender said, “This is something that came up for me when I was talking with my neighbors during the campaign, so I’m glad to see we are getting this done.”
Council member Jacob Frey said, “This is much needed both for a social initiative for fairness, inclusion, and equality, and from a business sense. It just makes common sense.”
Committe chair Cam Gordon hoped the ordinance change would spur larger changes in the city to make it a safer and more respectful place for transgender visitors and residents.
“I hope this will queue up some changes in the future. Where is that single use bathroom for City Hall? Then lets look at the schools and the parks and other city-owned buildings.”
The proposed change has several more steps ahead of it, including a vote by the full city council.