The words men and women are soon to come off many Philadelphia restrooms, thanks to a bill passed Thursday.
City Council unanimously approved the ordinance requiring that single-occupancy public restrooms be labeled as gender-neutral, and that men or women be dropped from signs.
The bill, introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla, applies to single-occupant bathrooms open to the public and not to multiple-stall restrooms. Mayor Nutter, whose Office of LGBT Affairs drafted the bill, is expected to sign it.
"For business owners, the only impact is taking down one sign and putting up another," said Nellie Fitzpatrick, the office's director. "But for individuals trying to access these spaces, it's eliminating barriers that are unnecessary and should not exist."
Gender-specific bathrooms have been catalysts for harassment or violence against transgender people and have discouraged some from going out in public, Fitzpatrick said. She called the bill "one of about a million small steps" needed to combat the discrimination and violence transgender people face.
Melissa Bova, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the group wrote in support of the bill. "Most are doing this already," she said. "This is a small thing to do to make sure all their guests are comfortable."
Bova said she did not know how many restaurants in the city have single-stall bathrooms, but noted that many high-end restaurants and BYOBs do not have space for anything larger.
The bill gives businesses 90 days to comply, or face fines from $75 to $2,000.
Similar laws have been enacted in Washington; Austin, Texas; Seattle; and West Hollywood, Calif. In Philadelphia, a 2013 law mandating gender-neutral bathrooms in new or renovated city-owned buildings has had little impact, as few such buildings have gone up in recent years.
Also at Thursday's busy meeting:
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced a bill rezoning an area near the sports stadiums as a "special entertainment district" to make way for a $500 million casino - a proposal that has drawn opposition from neighbors and a civil-rights group that alleges a partner in the deal has a record of bigotry.
The Planning Commission approved the master plan Tuesday for the 19-story hotel tower with gaming, dining, and entertainment, contingent on Council action.
A hearing in the coming weeks will "address all the concerns regarding traffic, regarding security, regarding overall quality of life of the constituents," Johnson said. The sooner work can begin on the estimated 15-month project, the better, he added, saying it would generate jobs and taxes.
Councilman William K. Greenlee introduced legislation to help workers who believe they were shortchanged on wages by creating a post in the Managing Director's Office to investigate such claims.
"People are getting ripped off, mostly low-income workers, restaurant workers," Greenlee said. "We envision a place that easily a worker could go to and say, 'I haven't been treated right,' the employer would get called in, maybe in some cases it was an honest mistake and it gets resolved," Greenlee said.
The proposed coordinator could issue subpoenas and compel employers to pay owed wages, plus penalties up to $2,000, and could deny, suspend, or revoke businesses' licenses. Chicago, Houston, and other cities have similar posts.
A study this year by Temple University's Center for Social Justice found 36,435 low-wage workers in Philadelphia experienced minimum-wage violations in a typical week, with overtime violations nearly as common.
An ordinance amending zoning regulations at 16th and Chancellor Streets passed unanimously and will allow a 12-story hotel to rise where Little Pete's diner and a parking garage now stand.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced legislation to update the city's recycling code, which has not been revised since 1987 and still says recyclables must be separated by glass, paper, and plastic despite the current system of one recycling stream.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products could vanish from pharmacy shelves if a bill introduced by Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco on the administration's behalf is enacted. It would ban such sales where health services or pharmaceutical drugs are offered.
As for the portion of cigarette taxes that now goes to city schools, Tasco said it would be weighed in hearings. "We'll have to talk about that," she said.