More than a year after Philly’s gender-neutral bathroom bill, no one’s been cited

The city’s fielded just three complaints about public bathrooms that are supposed to be labeled gender-neutral

Strangelove's, a two-story pub in Philadelphia's Gayborhood, has five gender neutral bathrooms throughout the establishment, three of which are on the second level and bear the words: "Men + Women (don't make us separate you.)"

Strangelove's, a two-story pub in Philadelphia's Gayborhood, has five gender neutral bathrooms throughout the establishment, three of which are on the second level and bear the words: "Men + Women (don't make us separate you.)"

Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn

Philadelphia hasn’t cited a single establishment since legislation was enacted a year and a half ago that requires public places with single-occupant bathrooms drop “men” and “women” labels in favor of some form of signage that indicates the bathroom is gender-neutral.

Karen Guss, a spokeswoman with the Philadelphia Department of Licenses & Inspections, the office tasked with enforcing the city’s transgender-friendly “bathroom bill,” said “awareness of and compliance with the gender-neutral signage ordinance has been high.” She added that she’s aware of just three complaints lodged against businesses, all of which came into compliance with the ordinance.

In January 2016, Philadelphia’s gender-neutral bathroom bill went into effect and was one of the last pieces of legislation signed and championed by former Mayor Michael Nutter. It was introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla as a complement to the city’s current law that stipulates transgender individuals can use whichever bathroom the person feels most comfortable in. This bill formalized that on the part of local businesses.

It’s also in addition to an ordinance enacted in 2013 that was part of then-Councilman Jim Kenney’s LGBT inclusion legislation that required all new city buildings built with gender-neutral bathrooms included in the plans.

Saxbys at the corner of 11th and Locust streets

Saxbys at the corner of 11th and Locust Streets


The legislation that went into effect in January 2016 stipulated that local businesses with single-occupancy restrooms must come into compliance within 90 days (by April 2016) or face a fine ranging anywhere from $75 to $2,000. Here’s the language from the ordinance:

Any entity that owns or leases a structure open to the general public, including but not limited to Retail Establishments and City-owned buildings, that currently has or at any time establishes one or more single-occupancy bathroom facilities for public use, shall provide Gender-neutral Signage for such facilities.

An entity that has bathroom facilities with gender usage indicated by art work or design may, if such designs predate the effective date of this Ordinance, retain such designs, provided that they use signage that clearly indicates that the bathroom may be used by any person or persons, regardless of gender identity.

While an educational outreach program was spearheaded by the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs following the initial rollout of the legislation, the city’s now largely relying on tips from the public in order to enforce the ordinance. Guss said complaints are referred by 311 to to the Office of LGBT Affairs, which reaches out to the business involved to discuss the sign ordinance’s requirements and then follows up about two months later to check compliance.

The businesses the city fielded complaints about came into compliance following initial contact, and industry leaders have said most owners didn’t have a problem with the ordinance.

“I don’t know the personal or religious preferences of certain business owners, so I didn’t know if it was going to be an issue,” Melissa Bova of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association said when the legislation was under consideration. “But I have to be honest, they were all, like, ‘We’re in. Not a problem. Let’s go.’”

Guss said the city is asking Philadelphia residents who see single-occupancy bathrooms with gendered signage to email or contact 311 with the name and location of the business so that the Office of LGBT Affairs can follow up on the matter.

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