Multnomah County mandates unisex bathrooms

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PORTLAND (AP) — Oregon’s most populous county is requiring that gender-neutral bathrooms be included whenever a county-owned building is constructed or remodeled, a move to accommodate transgender employees and visitors.

Multnomah County board Chairman Jeff Cogen signed the executive order Tuesday. The Portland-based county is among the first local governments in the nation to have such a rule.

It was patterned on legislation recently approved by the city of Philadelphia and was inspired by a local high school that earlier this year designated six single-occupancy restrooms as unisex.

It’s not known how many of the county’s 4,500 employees are transgender. County officials, however, say it’s not an insignificant number, and the directive will make life better for those who are uncomfortable using men’s and women’s restrooms.

“What we have is complaints; people who just tell us their stories,” said Kalissa Canyon-Scopes, policy director for the county’s Office of Diversity and Equity.

Those stories include transgender employees who rush home at lunch to use the bathroom, find a business with a single-occupancy toilet or hold it in all day.

Addie Jones, program assistant at Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Resource Center, said some transgender residents avoid eating and drinking to lessen their need to use a public bathroom. For them, Jones said, it is preferable to the intimidating looks and embarrassing questions they get when entering a bathroom assigned for people who don’t look like them.

Though the single-occupancy toilets are primarily intended for transgender employees, they will also be a plus for parents who visit county buildings and don’t want to use a crowded bathroom when changing a baby’s diaper, or for a mother who wants to accompany her young son to the bathroom but feels weird about bringing him into a women’s restroom.

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