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SF supe wants SRO gender-neutral bathrooms

by Matthew S. Bajko

San Francisco would require its single-room occupancy hotels to designate their single-stall bathrooms and shower facilities as gender neutral under a policy introduced Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission where a number of SROs are located, is the lead sponsor of the legislation. Not only would the new rule benefit transgender residents of the affordable housing properties, it would also provide relief to people with disabilities who have opposite-sex caregivers and parents with children of the opposite sex, argued Ronen.

"Gender nonconforming people should feel comfortable using the bathroom. All-gender bathrooms make sense for providing that comfortable space," Ronen told the Bay Area Reporter in an exclusive interview Monday.

As the B.A.R. reported in June, the San Francisco SRO Task Force members overwhelmingly supported 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. Many transgender people are also residents of such housing.

By adopting Ronen's legislation, the city would be adding SRO hotels to the 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; neither included SROs.

Ronen told the B.A.R. that had either gay former Supervisor David Campos, whom she had worked for as chief of staff, or Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) realized neither the local nor state legislation covered SROs they would have added such facilities to the legislation they sponsored.

"We are correcting a part of the law, which wasn't added in, at the request of gender nonconforming folks who live in SROs," said Ronen.

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.

"This has to be the most narrow, only-in-California piece of legislation ever, but it is important that this loophole be filled," said Jordan Davis, a transgender woman who serves on the SRO oversight body and has been advocating for the code change. "I am slightly disappointed the original gender-neutral restroom ordinance did not factor in single-room occupancy hotels, of which there are plenty in San Francisco and other cities in California and elsewhere, however, I commend Supervisor Ronen and her staff for taking this up."

Added Davis, an SRO resident, "There are many transgender people living in residential hotels, most of which have common restrooms, and not being able to use the restroom in one's own building can have dire health and safety consequences."

The board is expected to adopt the new rule in early 2018, and it would go into effect 30 days after being signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee. The only expense for SRO operators, said Ronen, would be the cost of the new signs for their publicly accessible, single-stall bathrooms.

"I think it is a righteous piece of legislation that is not very burdensome we can all agree on in San Francisco. That is certainly my hope and my expectation," she said.


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