By JASMINE HALL
LANSING, Mich. — The Ingham County Board of Commissioners is following communities in countries such as Germany, Scotland, Britain, Canada and China in deciding to put gender-neutral bathrooms in all county public buildings.
According to Rick Terrill, the county’s facilities director, the move would replace between 60 and 69 bathroom signs on single-stall restrooms.
The resolution sponsored by Vice-Chair Ryan Sebolt, D-Lansing, says that “all restrooms and gender-segregated facilities on property operated by Ingham County shall be accessible to individuals consistent with their gender identity or gender expression.”
The gender-neutral bathrooms will have single stalls.
Commissioner Mark Grebner, D-East Lansing, also suggested that the county builds new structures, multiple-stall gender-neutral bathrooms should be constructed.
In 2017, Berlin passed a similar resolution called the “Toilet Concept for Berlin.” The city stated that it would push to introduce unisex toilets throughout its public buildings.
Glasgow’s City Council voted to institute gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the public buildings, and taking it one step further, into the schools in 2016. Although those actions can be seen as a push for gender equality, they also back transgender rights, according to a report by the city council.
Nicole Hope, the leader of Transgender Michigan’s Lansing chapter, said that’s why she as a transgender woman came to the county commission meeting to support the resolution.
“Very simply put, bathrooms are an aspect of living in public society,” Hope said.
According to the latest report from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, only 20 countries have passed any kind of legislation to protect transgender rights.
That would now put Ingham County ahead of 170 other countries, as well as many other communities in the United States.
Commissioner Carol Koenig, D-East Lansing, said she’s always felt Ingham County was ahead of others in their policies and mentality.
“We might be a good example for others to follow,” she said.
Sebolt said his resolution is about “treating people with basic dignity and respect.”
A study in the The Journal of Homosexuality reported on the relationship between access to bathrooms and housing and suicide.
The study also said this kind of dignity and respect could save lives. Transgender people experience discrimination and prejudice every day, and 25 percent said they had been denied access to bathrooms or other facilities due to being transgender or non-gender conforming.
Those discriminated against had a higher chance of committing suicide, or did take their own life, the study said. It said that around 47 percent of the sample had a history of attempting suicide, a higher rate than the overall U.S. population.
Grebner said the resolution wasn’t introduced because of those kinds of issues in Ingham County.
Both Sebolt and Commissioner Emily Stivers, D-Meridian Township, said they were offended by Gerbner’s comment and “insensitivity.”
“Just because it hasn’t been massively reported,” Stivers said, “doesn’t mean it’s not an issue.”
Grebner isn’t the only official who has expressed doubts though — a recent report from the Human Rights Campaign said 44 pieces of anti-transgender legislation were filed in Congress and 17 concerned bathroom rights.
Grebner said he supported the resolution’s purpose but wanted to know how it would affect public places, not just taxpayers’ money.
Stivers suggested putting up signs to educate the public on the new gender-neutral stalls, and to respect when someone uses the bathroom they identify with.
Educating the public was important in suggesting gender-neutral bathrooms in Beijing, according to the city’s “All Gender Toilets” program. It draws attention to gender issues, according to the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute.
Commissioner Robin Naeyaert, R-Mason, said that although education is important, there are moments when there might be reason to report a person who may not be in the appropriate restroom. As a health department official, she said there are instances when male and female members of families needed to be separated.
Hope,the Transgender Michigan Lansing Chapter leader, said people should recognize there aren’t single-stall bathrooms in every public county building.
“So this is a good start for now,” Hope said.
Nicole Hope, leader of the Transgender Michigan Lansing Chapter, wore a transgender pride pin to the meeting — one on her shirt and one on her jacket hanging up. She spoke at two of the Board of Commissioners meeting in the past two weeks, saying this resolution was an important decision for the county.