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SF set to require gender-neutral bathrooms in SROs

by Matthew S. Bajko

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is on track to require gender-neutral restrooms in single-room occupancy hotels.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is on track to require gender-neutral restrooms in single-room occupancy hotels.  

San Francisco is set to adopt a policy that will require single-room occupancy hotels to designate their single-stall bathrooms and shower facilities as gender neutral. The first-of-its-kind rule would not only benefit transgender residents of such housing but also seniors and disabled people with caretakers of the opposite sex, as well as parents with children of the opposite sex.

The Board of Supervisors' land use and transportation committee voted unanimously Monday, January 29, to advance the legislation to the full board, which is expected to adopt the new regulation when it meets February 6. Interim Mayor Mark Farrell over the weekend came on board as a co-sponsor of the policy, ensuring it will become official once it reaches his desk next month.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission where a number of SROs are located, is the lead sponsor of the legislation. Co-sponsors include Supervisors Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, Sandra Lee Fewer and Jeff Sheehy, the board's lone gay member.

Peskin serves on the land use committee along with chair Supervisor Katy Tang and vice chair Supervisor Ahsha Safai.

As the Bay Area Reporter has previously noted, the SRO policy follows 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 in the summer of 2016, while the state provision became law last March; neither included SROs.

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 or gender identity, and shall be identified as all-gender facilities by signage" compliant with state regulations for such signs.

According to Jordan Davis, a transgender woman who serves on the San Francisco SRO Task Force and has been advocating for the code change, no other jurisdiction in California or another state has implemented a similar policy for their SRO hotels.

"This is very historic legislation before you today," Davis told the supervisors Monday.

Several Spanish-speaking transgender women living in SROs also urged the supervisors to support the policy. Speaking through a translator, one woman said adoption of the policy was needed "so I can go to the bathroom in peace."

Clair Farley, the mayor's senior adviser on transgender issues, addressed the committee to inform them of Farrell's co-sponsorship of the ordinance. She noted that many transgender people avoid using public bathrooms due to being harassed.

"In San Francisco we have begun implementing all-gender restrooms throughout the city for the public sector and in city buildings. We know this continues to be important for low-income housing tenants as well," said Farley. "It is crucial for the transgender community and disabled residents who need easy access to the bathroom."

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