The new decade began with a step forward for transgender and gender nonconforming people, as a new Illinois law requiring all public, single-occupant restrooms to be labeled as all-gender took effect Jan. 1.
Termed the Equitable Restrooms Act, this law prevents places of “public accommodation” from marking single-occupancy restrooms as for any specific gender. Buildings such as hotels, restaurants, homeless shelters and libraries are all listed as places of public accommodation, according to the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Public buildings will be held accountable for upholding the law by the Illinois Department of Public Health, as health inspectors are now responsible for assuring public buildings are marking their single-occupancy restrooms as all-gender, the Act reads.
Harassment in restrooms is directed towards transgender and gender-nonconforming folks.Kim L. Hunt, executive director of Pride Action Tank (PAT)
The Chicago Restroom Access Project, a group working under the LGBTQ advocacy organization Pride Action Tank (PAT), was one of the supporters of the Equitable Restrooms Act. In an effort to educate and spread awareness, the Chicago Restroom Access Project launched a survey in 2016 asking about 1,000 Chicago residents what sign would best represent a gender-neutral restroom, according to the PAT website.
Kim L. Hunt, the executive director of the PAT, said projects like the survey are a result of “informal, community-based meetings” focused on listening to the voices of marginalized people. She said the law going into effect was due to the hard work of “regular people” who wanted to make public restrooms safer and more accessible for transgender and gender nonconforming people.
“Harassment in restrooms is directed towards transgender and gender nonconforming folks,” Hunt said, emphasizing safety as a core reason for the law’s importance.
Some students at Loyola have had similar issues with feeling unsafe of uncomfortable in gendered restrooms and pushed for the addition of more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus about three months ago, The Phoenix reported. Since this push occurred, the university added an additional gender-neutral bathroom in the Information Commons/Cudahy Library and now has 13 gender-neutral bathrooms, according to Loyola’s website.
Kana Henning, Loyola’s associate vice president for facilities, said all single-occupancy restrooms at Loyola are labeled with “gender-neutral wording.” She also said the decision to add a gender-neutral restroom in the IC/Cudahy was not influenced by the new law.
Olive Spiegel, co-president of one of Loyola’s student organizations for LGBTQ students called Rainbow Connection, said the law identifies single-occupant restrooms as “safe spaces” for transgender and gender nonconforming people.
“The title of all-gender makes [people] think about who the bathroom is meant for,” they said, emphasizing the issue of cisgender people using single-occupant restrooms simply for “privacy.”
According to Equality Illinois, another organization working to advance the equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people, the Equitable Restrooms Act is also beneficial for people with caretakers, disabilities and children of the opposite sex.