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The DC Office of Human Rights Announces Significant Victory for Transgender Community

Friday, March 4, 2011

The DC Office of Human Rights Announces Significant Victory for Transgender Community

OHR achieves success in enforcing laws that require gender-neutral bathroom signs.

Since 2009, the Office of Human Rights has been working to ensure that small businesses come into compliance with DC Municipal Regulations, Title 4, § 802.2 (2006), which requires that single-occupancy restrooms must have gender-neutral signs.  This can be accomplished, for example, by replacing signs that indicate “Men” and “Women” with signs that say “Restroom” or “Bathroom.”  (Single-occupancy bathrooms can be defined as those facilities meant to be used by only one customer at any given time.  Multiple-stall restrooms may continue to be gender segregated.) 

A survey conducted by the DC Trans Coalition in 2008 revealed that transgender people have experienced significant problems with public bathroom facilities. Out of the 93 trans and gender non-conforming District-area respondents: 70% of respondents reported experiencing problems with gender-segregated public facilities in the District; 68% of respondents have been denied access to, verbally harassed in, and/or physically assaulted in public bathrooms; and 38% of respondents reported avoiding particular public places due to a lack of safe restroom facilities. Requiring that single-occupancy bathrooms be gender-neutral in the District, we are able to reduce discrimination against and harassment of transgender people seeking to use public facilities. Many other groups, such as parents with children and women, who often must contend with long lines at single-gender bathrooms, also benefit.

Since beginning to work on this issue, in partnership with the DC Trans Coalition and the DC Center, OHR has achieved the following:

  • 58 establishments have been investigated by OHR, which has included informing them of this regulation and their obligation to uphold it.
  • 44 establishments have changed their signs as a result.
  • Also as a result of these inquiries, four different corporate chains including Starbucks, Potbelly’s, Chop’t, and Caribou Coffee have changed their signs in all of their stores in the District, resulting in approximately 75 establishments changing their signs.
  • In total, approximately 107 establishments total have changed their signs as a result of our efforts.

In addition, at the request of OHR, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) recently issued a new policy that instructs business inspectors to discontinue use of the section of the International Plumbing Code that requires businesses to label single-occupancy restrooms as “male” and “female.”   

OHR continues to work diligently to bring small businesses into compliance with these regulations, ensuring a safer environment for all who live in, work in, or visit the District.