By: Ian McInerney
Nearly ten years ago to the date, the D.C. Office of Human Rights passed 4 DCMR 802 (“Safe Bathrooms D.C.”), requiring all restaurants within the District to have gender-neutral signs on all single occupancy bathrooms. Safe Bathrooms D.C. has two provisions that affect the LGBT community: (1) “All entities covered under the Act . . . shall allow individuals the right to use gender-specific restrooms and other gender-specific facilities . . . that are consistent with their gender identity or expression;” and (2) “All entities covered under the Act with single-occupancy restroom facilities shall use gender-neutral signage for those facilities.” These provisions require the removal of gender-specific signage from single occupancy restrooms and allow people in D.C. to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender they identify with.
Many in the LGBT community saw this as a victory for civil rights and hoped that Safe Bathrooms D.C. would set a precedent for more rights in the coming years. While Safe Bathrooms D.C. has been met with overwhelmingly positive responses in D.C., several factors have contributed to the lack of enforcement.
First, Safe Bathrooms D.C. relies almost entirely upon citizens reporting violations of the regulation. Citizens can call the Office of Human Rights directly or they can fill out an online form. Relying on citizens can be a helpful way to report violations, however, most citizens in D.C. either do not know about Safe Bathrooms D.C. or have conflicting ideas about what the law actually says.
Second, up until Feb. 2011, five years after Safe Bathrooms D.C. passed, the D.C. Office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs had its own conflicting regulation in place which required restaurants to have gender-specific signs on all bathrooms. Several businesses have raised concerns over this issue including the owner of the popular Northwest bar Madame’s Organ, Bill Duggan. Mr. Duggan says that he respects the LGBT community but he is upset that the conflicting regulations were not resolved sooner, noting that his business has passed city inspections for the last twenty-five years.
Finally, D.C. did not implement a public enforcement or awareness campaign until 2014, eight years after Safe Bathrooms D.C. was passed. D.C.’s “Safe Bathroom D.C.” campaign aims to “to reduce that stress by making every single-stall public bathroom in the District gender-neutral.” This delay in increasing public awareness on D.C.’s part has directly contributed to the lack of public knowledge regarding Safe Bathrooms D.C.
Thankfully, not everything has been negative when it comes to LGBT access to gender-neutral bathrooms in D.C. In 2013, Starbucks became one of the first corporate businesses to fully comply with Safe Bathrooms D.C.; all fifty-two of its D.C. locations should now have gender-neutral signs on their bathrooms. Additionally, the Office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs amended its rules to allow for a five hundred dollar fine for those not in compliance with Safe Bathrooms D.C.
While the District and the businesses within it hash out the enforcement side of things, the fact remains that many citizens in D.C. who identify as transgender have experienced and continue to experience harassment when they try to use the bathroom. In 2009, the D.C. Trans Coalition conducted a survey and found that 68% of those surveyed had been “denied access to, verbally harassed in, and/or physically assaulted in public bathrooms.” Denying access to bathrooms for those in the LGBT community has far reaching effects in everything from education, health, employment, housing, and even social life.
To some, Safe Bathrooms D.C. is just another government regulation, but to those in the LGBT community, it represents access to a basic human necessity. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has said that, while it can fine people, it wants to focus on educating business owners. If you see a bar or restaurant in D.C. without gender-neutral bathroom signs, do your part and report the business. Only through collective action can we hope to create a trusting and supportive environment here in Washington, D.C.
 4 D.C.M.R. § 802 (2006) (Restrooms and Other Gender Specific Facilities).
 Office of Human Rights, Safe Bathrooms D.C., https://ohr.dc.gov/page/safe-bathrooms-dc (last visited Oct. 24, 2016) (highlighting information regarding D.C.’s “Safe Bathrooms” campaign).
 D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, DCRA to Enforce Human Rights Act Bathroom Policy, The D.C. Center Blog (Feb. 28, 2011, 12:47 PM), https://www.thedccenter.org/blog/2011/02/dcra-to-enforce-human-rights-act-bathroom-policy.html
 Jennifer Davis, D.C. bar owner upset after receiving discrimination violation for not having gender-neutral restrooms (Mar. 4, 2016, 11:02 PM), https://www.fox5dc.com/news/local-news/100781433-story
 Humans Rights Campaign, Gender-Neutral Bathroom Campaign Launches in Washington, D.C., HRC Blog (Apr. 4, 2014), https://www.hrc.org/blog/gender-neutral-bathroom-campaign-launches-in-washington-Safe Bathrooms D.C.eutral signs) m single occupancy restrooms and allow those in D.C. to use the restroom that corresponds wit
 Office of Human Rights, supra, note 4.
 D.C. Trans Coalition, 52 New Gender Neutral Bathrooms in D.C.! (Oct. 1, 2010), https://dctranscoalition.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/52-new-gender-neutral-bathrooms-in-dc/
 Michael Neibauer, Gender neutral: D.C. threatens fines for mislabeled bathroom signs, Washington Business Journal (Jan. 24, 2013, 2:43 PM), https://www.bizjournals.com/washington/breaking_ground/2013/01/gender-neutral-dc-threatens-fines.html
 D.C. Trans Coalition, Our Survey Results (Nov. 8, 2009), https://dctranscoalition.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/our-survey-results/ (summarizing the results of its survey on gender-segregated spaces in D.C., produced by the D.C. Trans Coalition).
 Washington Business Journal, supra, note 13.