Charlotte City Council member David Howard says he’s pretty certain no one will like the compromise he plans to offer tonight on the most contentious part of the city’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance – a provision that allows transgender people to use the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable.
That provision has prompted much of the flood of 40,000-plus e-mails council members have received on the ordinance.
Here’s the compromise, which Howard described to me this morning: A local building code that requires all new commercial construction to include at least one gender-free single-stall bathroom that would be available to transgender people, as well as others. Some commercial establishments, such as Target, already offer that choice, he says.
If a new commercial building has many bathrooms – as an office building would – the code might require more than one single-stall bathroom. Howard hasn’t worked out a formula yet.
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As for existing buildings, Howard wants to require that at least one bathroom be declared a “safe haven bathroom” that is available to transgender people or those who identify as another gender. That bathroom would remain a men’s or women’s room, and it would remain available to that gender, but it also would be a designated bathroom that everyone understands is available to transgender people as well.
Existing structures that only have two bathrooms, such as restaurants, would be exempt from having to name one of those a safe-haven bathroom.
Howard has spent the weekend talking to city officials and faith leaders about the compromise. “I understand both sides of this,” he says. “My main concern is safety.” He says he wants parents to feel comfortable sending their children into public restrooms, and he wants transgender people to feel safe, as well.
Howard says he’ll propose sending the restroom provision to a committee to iron out the best way to proceed. If that happens, he said he would vote in favor of the rest of the ordinance.
The proposal is a long shot. Developers will resist code that could introduce new costs. The LGBT community will resist a proposal that doesn’t give transgender people freer choice with restrooms.
“Nobody likes it,” Howard says. “So it’s probably the right thing to do.”
Peter St. Onge