UT, Austin continue to lead on gender-neutral bathrooms

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Photo Credit: Lillian Michel | Daily Texan Staff

Since March, a piece of legislation signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) banning transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice in North Carolina has sparked a national conversation over whether gender-neutral bathrooms harm people’s safety or protect the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals.

While supporters and opponents of the state’s law argue over its ethics and merits, constituents in Austin — the only city in Texas to protect gender-neutral bathrooms — have not made any complaints to the Mayor’s office, according to Jason Stanford, communications director for Mayor Steve Adler.

Stanford said although he couldn’t comment on the national conversation itself, he said he could not imagine the public’s response if the Austin City Council had taken similar actions as the North Carolina legislature.

“If you’re different in other cities, a lot of times you get run out of town,” Stanford said. “Here, we like to think ‘Keep Austin Weird,’ but really we know that if you include everyone, we’re a lot smarter and stronger than we otherwise wouldn’t be.”

In 2015, the Austin City Council approved an ordinance mandating all commercial businesses with a single-occupant bathrooms — which have a locked door — must also install gender-neutral signage. The law, which took effect last January, does not apply to restroom facilities with multiple stalls, and any breaking of the ordinance can be reported to code enforcement officials. 

Despite both supporters and opponents of the North Carolina ban taking to social media, Stanford said the Mayor’s office has not heard any complaints from Austinites on either side.

“People generally go in there to do their business and not much else,” Stanford said. “People are concerned about traffic and rising prices; they’re not concerned with bathrooms in Austin. If they are, we’re not hearing from them.”

Once the law took effect in 2015, Austin joined four other cities around the country in mandating single-occupancy restrooms be accessible to all genders. The four other cities are New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C., which was the first to pass a bathroom law in 2006.

For students at UT, the University in 2011 joined one of the more than 150 universities nationwide to extend the number of gender-neutral bathrooms in campus facilities to 59 since that time. 

“There was always the idea of having entire restrooms on campus be gender-neutral, which I personally am for,” said Plan II senior Rohit Mandalapu. “As I see it right now, the unisex bathrooms were sort of a middle ground that was taken to find a way to have gender-neutral bathrooms without having to pigeonhole individuals who don’t identify with [any] gender.”

As a cisgender woman, English senior Taylor Moore said a lot of the coffee shops she frequents have gender-neutral bathrooms, which benefit people of all genders. Moore, who said the Austin law makes her proud to live in the city, said she has many transgender friends who are in the early stages of transitioning and benefit from access to gender-neutral bathrooms.

“If we were able to implement something so easily with little to no public pushback, then we could set a great example to other cities who are maybe thinking about implementing things like North Carolina is,” Moore said. “Maybe this will sway them in the opposite direction.”