LGBTQ+ groups ask governor to sign gender-neutral bathroom bill

Legislative Gazette photo by Anna Vallone

More than 85 organizations and hundreds of individuals have signed on to a letter asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that would designate many single-stall bathrooms in New York as gender-neutral.

The bill (S.6479-a/A.5240-a) is modeled after California’s law and would require “all publicly accessible bathrooms, including those in public and private schools, restaurants, bars, mercantile establishments, factories or state-owned or operated buildings, to designate all single occupancy bathrooms as gender neutral,” according to the bill text.

The letter sent to the governor on November 12 was penned by the bill’s primary sponsors, Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell and Sen. Julia Salazar.

“This legislation is simple: it says that if a bathroom has one stall, anyone can use it,” the letter reads. “Critically, the bill applies to all restaurants, bars, public and private schools, and other public facilities across the state to ensure that everyone can access public accommodations wherever they are without fear of discrimination or harassment, no matter their gender or gender identity.

The gender-neutral bathroom bill was passed unanimously by the state Assembly, with a significant bipartisan majority in the Senate, this past summer.

New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, the state of California and the state of Illinois have all passed similar legislation. According to O’Donnell, there have been no issues implementing the policy and no negative impacts on businesses or institutions.

Put into layman’s terms, the bill proposes that any single-occupancy restroom will be labeled gender neutral. This includes, but is not limited to, all single-stall bathrooms present in public schools, bars, mercantile establishments, and the SUNY and CUNY systems.

As specified in both the letter addressed to Gov. Cuomo and the recorded justification of the bill, the O’Donnell-Salazar bill is about much more than just the bathrooms, and its supporters call on Gov. Cuomo to acknowledge this.

Being able to access public spaces, according to the bill’s justification, shouldn’t be considered a privilege.

“Placing restrictions on who can use public restrooms not only violates individuals’ basic civil rights, it all too often threatens the privacy and safety of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people who are just trying to go about their day,” the letter continues. “At its core, this bill is not just about bathrooms, but about transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary peoples’ right to exist in the world as themselves, with safety, protection, and affirmation.”

The letter was signed and supported by more than 100 LGBTQ+ elected officials, organizations, and community leaders from around the state. Among these organizations stood local groups, such as the Albany Damien Center and Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance.

New York, like California, is a well established safe haven for diversity by making strides to advance the civil liberties of marginalized groups. In a recent article by the Associated Press, it was revealed that, in the year of 2019, the FBI observed more than 7,300 crimes motivated by race, religion, or sexual orientation in the U.S. This is the highest level of hate crimes the country has seen in more than a decade.

Because of reports like this, many believe that, now more than ever, it is important for legislators to protect groups who are at increased risk of experiencing these violent crimes. In their letter to the governor, Assemblyman O’Donnell and State Senator Salazar call on Gov. Cuomo to join the state of California, as well as the state of Illinois and the city of Philadelphia, which have also recently passed similar legislation, in their efforts to protect and affirm transgender, gender nonconforming and nonbinary individuals.

If signed, the bill would take effect 90 days later.