Why doctors should care about gender neutral restrooms : health, safety, and equality, in Washington, DC

Two years ago, I didn’t know what a gender neutral restroom was. Now I know they are a necessity.

People who are transgender tell me stories of fear when they talk about using bathrooms when they travel. Their loved ones tell me they count the number of seconds that facilities are being used, also out of fear. On a more practical level, just about every human being has waited outside an empty, gendered, single-use bathroom.

Now Washington, DC is streamlining the process of reporting single use bathrooms to ensure they are available to all:

* All covered entities with single-occupancy restroom facilities shall use gender-neutral signage for those facilities (for example, by replacing signs that indicate “Men” and “Women” with signs that say “Restroom”).   See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 4. § 802.2 (2006).   

It’s a simple tweet with hashtag #SafeBathroomsDC with the name of the business, the location, and a photo. Businesses will be asked to convert signage to gender neutral and fined for non-compliance.

Although the regulation is for single occupancy restrooms, at the Center for Total Health, we turned our multi-stall restrooms into gender neutral ones for an evening last summer:

When having events at hotels, we have also converted restrooms to be gender neutral.

In all of the instances I have seen this happen, I have seen the most human and caring behaviors among my colleagues (and why wouldn’t I, I have great colleagues :)). People want to learn, and help. Turning a fearful and isolating experience into a normal and comfortable one is one of the most healing things a human being can do for another, which is why a doctor writes about them.

Community leader Ruby Corado (@CasaRubyDC) expressed the impact in a clear way:

As my heart gets filled with emotion and my eyes get teary, I can’t help but to think of those who are no longer with us to see this, It is you the 14+ Trans Women that were violently killed in our city and the hundreds more that were hurt by others that give ME and the many Trans and Cis activists who fight for dignity everyday, The strength to keep going even when things seem impossible.

I thank everyone who made this happen, everyone who worked so hard for the past few years like David Mariner, Renee and Jamie for loving us and fighting for Us Trans people, when there were times that we could not fight for ourselves.

I invite everyone to report non compliant bathrooms as we spot them through our city

By the way, at the Center for Total Health our single use restrooms are 🙂 . Are yours? If you’re not sure, head to the Safe Bathrooms DC web site to see what signage to look out for, and what to change yours to. For more information about the topic of gender neutral facilities, there are several resources that will help you that I’ve tagged.

PS. Ours are 🙂 @KPTotalHealth #safebathroomsDC @DCHumanRights #equalityequalshealth @fuse_kait on Flickr.com


[…] From my read, there’s also room for innovation and incremental improvement. One thing that I’m aware of that’s an impediment to health is gender segregated restrooms (aka “Men’s” and “Women’s” rooms). These shouldn’t exist anymore, and it was a jolting reminder that they still exist on my recent trip to New Hampshire, since these kinds of bathrooms are no longer legal in Washington, DC (see: Why doctors should care about gender neutral restrooms : health, safety, and equality, in Washington…) […]

Ted Eytan, MD