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Political Notebook: SRO task force calls for gender-neutralbathrooms

by Matthew S. Bajko

A city task force has recommended gender-neutral<br>bathrooms in single-room occupancy hotels. Photo: stopsignsandmore.com
A city task force has recommended gender-neutral
bathrooms in single-room occupancy hotels. Photo: stopsignsandmore.com  

Single-room occupancy hotels in San Francisco would be required to designate their single-stall bathrooms and shower facilities as gender neutral under a policy the Board of Supervisors is expected to take up later this year.

The San Francisco SRO Task Force voted 6-3 at its meeting June 15 in support of updating the city's housing code to require gender-neutral bathroom signage on single-stall facilities in SRO hotels, which house many low-income and formerly homeless individuals.

"If they have gender-based signage they have to change it," said Jordan Davis, a transgender woman who serves on the SRO oversight body and has been advocating for the code change. "Whether it is single toilet rooms, shower rooms or a combined toilet and shower, they have to remove the gender-specific signage and not have signage or have signage making it be gender neutral."

Doing so would bring the SRO hotels in line with city and state laws that require businesses and government-run buildings to mark all single-stall toilets as for use by anyone. San Francisco's policy went into effect last summer, while the state provision became law in March.

The laws are meant to protect transgender people, as well as gender nonconforming individuals, who may feel uncomfortable using gender-specific public facilities for fear they will be harassed or attacked for doing so. Neither the local law nor the state law, however, covered SRO hotels.

"I've seen a couple incidences in hotels with single-use bathrooms and DBI said the law didn't apply," said Davis, referring to the city's Department of Building Inspection. "We need to clarify shower rooms are included and this applies to SROs as well."

It is already city policy for SRO hotels to provide a water closet, a lavatory, and a bathtub or shower situated either within individual rooms or off the exit corridor on the same floor. For single-stall facilities situated outside of a hotel guest room, the housing code would be updated to specify they "shall be made available for the use of all residents regardless of gender appearance or identity" and that the "signage on single stall facilities shall indicate the same, or state only 'toilet' or 'shower.'"

"This is an important issue," James Sanbonmatsu , the acting chief housing inspector for the Department of Building Inspection, told the SRO task force members.

Sanbonmatsu, who oversees code enforcement outreach and is the SRO Collaboratives program manager, said once a supervisor signs on as a sponsor of the code amendment then the city attorney's office would draft the required legislation. It would first need to be approved by the DBI code advisory committee then by the seven-member citizen Building Inspection Commission before being taken up by the supervisors.

"Amending the housing code is a process," said Matt Luton with DBI's Housing Inspection Services, who helped craft the proposed wording for the housing code amendment. "What we want to achieve is to make sure all the facilities are made available to everybody."

The SRO task force sent all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors an email last Wednesday, June 21, to inform them of its request about amending the housing code. It is unclear how many transgender people reside in the hundreds of SROs in the city, as that information is not tracked.

"As for the number of trans people in SROs, it would be hard to say in terms of concrete numbers, but given our general economic marginalization plus the significant trans populations in the TL, SOMA, and Mission, I'd venture a lot," wrote Davis in an emailed reply.

The office of District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen , who represents the Mission where a number of SROs are located, is looking into the bathroom signage issue. Her aide Carolina Morales told the Bay Area Reporter she could not give a timeframe, however, for when Ronen would introduce any legislation.

With budget negotiations underway, Morales indicated it likely wouldn't be until after the board's summer recess.

"The issue is very important for the supervisor," said Morales. "We need residents of all genders to have access to the bathrooms they need to utilize regardless of how they identify."

 

Bi candidate enters East Bay Assembly race

For the second time in four years, bisexual East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Andy Katz is running for the open 15th Assembly District seat. The incumbent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running to be the state's superintendent of public instruction after serving two two-year terms in the Legislature.

"We need leaders in Sacramento who will continue to push California to a strong future for our environment, our schools, and our community. In the Assembly, I will put my experience as a workers' rights attorney to work for you, so we can fight for single-payer health care, improve our public education system for our kids, and strengthen our climate protection laws," wrote Katz, 37, in a June 21 Facebook post announcing his candidacy.

A Berkeley resident, Katz is the government affairs director at Breathe California. He abandoned his first bid for the legislative seat in 2014 due to a lack of financial support and endorsements from community groups and local leaders.

He instead won re-election that fall to his EBMUD seat, in which he has served for 11 years now, and his current four-year term expires December 31, 2018. If Katz does not survive next year's June primary, where the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation in the Assembly race advance to the November ballot, he could opt to run for re-election to the EBMUD board.

The Assembly district includes the cities of Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Hercules, Kensington, Piedmont, Pinole, Richmond, San Pablo, Tara Hills, and a portion of Oakland.

Katz is the second out candidate to enter the race. Lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles is also running for the seat and last week won an early endorsement from the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club in San Francisco. Lesbian Berkeley school board member Judy Appel also plans to join the race but has yet to officially do so.

Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb is running for the seat, as is former Obama campaign aide and White House staffer Buffy Wicks , who lives in Oakland.

Should one of the out candidates win the seat, they would be the first LGBT state legislator from the East Bay. If Beckles is elected, she would be the state Legislature's first out black LGBT member, while Katz would be its first bisexual legislator.

 

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, July 31.

 

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes.

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail mailto:.

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