Single-stall bathrooms in Denver will be gender-neutral

Is the bathroom for one person at a time? Then any person can use it, according to a building code update approved by the Denver City Council.

Gender neutral bathroom sign. (Samir Luther, Flickr)

If you’ve ever waited impatiently for a single-person bathroom that corresponds to your gender while the other one was empty, you may have wondered, “Why are these labeled at all?!”

Well, it’s because the international building code requires it. If you have two bathrooms, they must be labeled one for men and one for women.

That won’t be the case in Denver anymore.

As part of a set of amendments to the international building code, most of which dealt with fairly technical matters, the Denver City Council unanimously approved a change Monday that requires all single-person bathrooms in the city to be gender-neutral.

This isn’t a change in anti-discrimination law. Since 2008, people in Colorado who are transgender have had the right to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender presentation.

This doesn’t change the rules for multi-stall bathrooms. Those will continue to be marked for men or women.

The change was suggested by Denver’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Commission earlier this year when Community Planning and Development was working on updates to the building code. The details were worked out in cooperation with Community Planning and Development, Councilwoman at-large Robin Kniech and Councilman Jolon Clark.

Everyone involved is very quick to point out the beneficiaries represent a much broader group than trans people or those who don’t fit easily into the gender binary.

“People will benefit who are caregivers of older people, parents of small children, people who don’t want to wait in line and transgender people as well,” said Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado. “It makes it more convenient, but it also makes bathrooms more accessible.”

Clark, whose council district includes South Broadway and South Pearl Street, both with many small restaurants and coffee shops, said some business owners confess that they put up the men’s and women’s signs when the building inspector comes, and then take them down. But until now, not having them put business owner in violation of the building code.

Clark recalled taking his young daughter to use the restroom and hesitating.

“Which one do I go in? I’m a boy. She’s a girl,” he said. “Or when she started to go by herself, she would come back and say, ‘Someone is in there. What do I do?’ when there is the exact same facility right next door.”

“Even though you have a right, there’s the matter of where you can feel comfortable,” he added.

Arash Jahanian, vice chair of the LGBTQ Commission, said Denver is following in the footsteps of over cities, like Seattle, San Francisco and New York.

“We took a look at the building code, and for buildings of a certain size, one (single-stall restroom) has to be male and one has to be female, which is just ridiculous for a number of reasons,” he said. “We decided no, every single-stall restroom in Denver should be gender neutral.”

“The regulations implementing the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act already mandate that individuals can use the restroom that corresponds to the gender with which they identify,” he added. “You still have individuals who may not feel safe.”

Business owners have until May 1, 2018, to change their signage to reflect that anyone can use either bathroom.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.