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Mayor Signs SRO Bathrooms Law

by Matthew S. Bajko

San Francisco interim Mayor Mark Farrell signs Supervisor Hillary Ronen's legislation Wednesday mandating gender-neutral bathrooms in single-room occupancy hotels
San Francisco interim Mayor Mark Farrell signs Supervisor Hillary Ronen's legislation Wednesday mandating gender-neutral bathrooms in single-room occupancy hotels  (Source:Kelly Sullivan)

San Francisco officials have adopted a first-of-its-kind policy requiring single-room occupancy hotels to designate their single-stall bathrooms and shower facilities as gender neutral.

The change to the city's building codes is meant to aid transgender residents of such housing as well as seniors and disabled people with caretakers of the opposite sex. It is also seen as a benefit for parents with children of the opposite sex who live in SROs.

Interim Mayor Mark Farrell signed the new rule into law Wednesday afternoon on the mayor's balcony at City Hall surrounded by members of the Board of Supervisors and transgender advocates. The signing ceremony, landing on February 14, served as a Valentine to the LGBT community from San Francisco's elected leaders.

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

"This is a Valentine for the transgender community, as well as seniors, the disabled, and women," Davis told the Bay Area Reporter. "This is also extremely historic, no gender neutral restroom bill has ever covered residential spaces or bathing facilities."

The ceremony marked the first time Farrell had added his signature to legislation benefiting the LGBT community since becoming the city's interim mayor January 23. He will be mayor until the winner of the special election June 5 is sworn in to serve out the term of the late mayor Ed Lee, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack December 12.

"This is all about equity here in San Francisco and equal access," Farrell told the B.A.R. just prior to the signing ceremony.

Farrell had announced via Twitter last month that he was co-sponsoring the legislation ahead of a supervisor committee hearing on the code change. The law takes effect Friday, March 16, which is 30 days after the date that Farrell signed it.

The signing ceremony came less than 24 hours after the supervisors unanimously voted a second time at their meeting Tuesday, February 13, to support the code change. District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission where a number of SROs are located, was the lead sponsor of the legislation.

"I am really excited we had unanimous passage and support on this legislation from the mayor," Ronen told the B.A.R. "It is a no-brainer. As San Franciscans have seen, all-gender restrooms make all of our lives easier, safer, and better."

Supervisors Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, Sandra Lee Fewer, Ahsha Safai, Malia Cohen, and Jeff Sheehy, the board's lone gay member, all co-sponsored the legislation.

"This ordinance will provide equitable and dignified access rights for members of our transgender community," stated Sheehy. "SROs serve as the homes for many nonconforming individuals - the amenities at these hotels should reflect needs of the people who reside there. We are proud to sponsor an ordinance that will have a meaningful improvement on the day-to-day lives of our residents."

As the B.A.R. 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 will 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.

Davis first proposed the gender-neutral bathroom policy last year and pushed it through the SRO task force in June. She thanked city leaders for adopting it in less than a year's time.

"I am glad that the board has quickly turned this around, so I can focus on issues not necessarily relating to the LGBT community, as part of my work on the SRO Task Force," said Davis.

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