Philadelphia City Hall has more than a million square feet and a giant hole in the middle, making it nearly impossible to navigate confidently not just if you’re only there for a one-time visit — to get a marriage license or appear in court — but also if you’re an employee.
So imagine trying to find the building’s only gender-neutral bathroom. It’s on the seventh floor, a destination with a horror-flick vibe: a couple of vending machines, signs for the observation deck, and flickering lights.
Still can’t find it? You’re not alone.
While Philadelphia has for years implemented policies aimed at improving gender-neutral bathroom access for transgender and gender nonconforming youths and adults, critics say City Hall itself has failed to make gender-neutral bathrooms truly accessible.
But that could change. Councilwoman Helen Gym plans to introduce legislation Thursday to require that City Hall have at least one gender-neutral bathroom on each of the seven publicly accessible floors, where there currently are gender-specific restrooms. Gym says the move will bring City Hall “into the modern age” and help establish it as a space accommodating transgender and gender nonconforming employees and visitors.
In the meantime, City Hall isn’t violating its own laws. In 2013, City Council passed LGBTQ equality legislation championed by now-Mayor Jim Kenney, who was then a Council member. Part of the law requires that a gender-neutral bathroom be constructed in any new city-owned building and that whenever the city renovates bathrooms in a building it owns or occupies, a gender-neutral bathroom must be established.
Then, in 2015, Council approved a measure requiring that retail establishments in the city designate public single-stall bathrooms as gender-neutral, and that signs indicating their use for men or women be removed. That law is now enforced by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
Gym said the bill is more about establishing City Hall as a model for gender-neutral bathroom access.
“City Hall ought to set a standard,” she said, “for what we want to see in public facilities.”
Restrooms labeled as for men or women have long been a concern in the transgender and nonbinary community. Some say harassment is common whether they use a restroom that aligns with their gender identity or the gender they were assigned at birth. Gender-neutral bathrooms eliminate the need to choose.
Gym said there have been “multiple events” at City Hall with transgender and gender nonconforming folks struggling to find a bathroom to use. In March, Maddie Luebbert, a public-school teacher who is nonbinary, tweeted about being “shouted at in front of my students for using the women’s bathroom at City Hall.” Luebbert is overseas and wasn’t available for an interview.
The Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs couldn’t be reached to talk about Gym’s proposed legislation.
Gym also is to introduce a bill Thursday requiring all organizations serving youths in Philadelphia to institute policies protecting transgender and gender nonconforming youth.