Widgets Magazine


All-gender, all city: Gender-neutral restroom code compliance in San Francisco

Reporting for Philadelphia-area website Billy Penn last week, Anna Orso told the fascinating story of that city’s gender-neutral restroom law. Since a law requiring single-occupancy restrooms to maintain all-gender signage went into effect in January 2016, the City of Philadelphia has issued no citations against any offending building owners. Perhaps even more impressively, the Department of Licenses and Inspections has fielded just three complaints against gendered signage. Taken together, these facts make Philadelphia a special case for how to build code compliance. Could the stipulated fines of up to $2,000 have something to do with the low number of violators? Whatever the reason, the city has acknowledged that awareness of and compliance with the law has been strong.

Like Philly, San Francisco passed a law requiring that single-occupancy restrooms be marked as all-gender in 2016, and as of March 2017, the same is true for all single-user restrooms in California, thanks to the Equal Restroom Access Act (AB1732). Unlike Philadelphia, however, the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (SFDBI) has received 63 complaints regarding noncompliant signage for single-occupancy restrooms since May 2016. Of these, 27 remain active. Whatever the causes for this disparity, one thing is clear: While people might assume that progressive San Francisco would be fully onboard with all-gender restroom laws, the data suggests otherwise.

The reports are concentrated in the Mission, SoMa and Lakeshore areas, while other areas have been free of complaints. Of course, digging deeper could reveal that some San Franciscans are simply more apt to report gendered signage than their Philadelphian counterparts. Yet this explanation seems less than likely, since both cities are politically liberal-leaning with citizens who are aware of the issues surrounding transgender bathroom access. Furthermore, although Philadelphia boasts a population above 1.5 million compared to San Francisco’s 870,000, the number of complaints is nowhere near commensurate — in fact, San Francisco has received more than 20 times the number of complaints recorded in Philly.