When applicable, Evanston public restroom facilities now required to have gender-neutral signage

Elena Sucharetza, Assistant City Editor

All Evanston public facilities with only one single-occupancy restroom will now be required to have gender-neutral signage under an ordinance approved by City Council on Monday. If there are three or more restrooms in a facility, at least one of them must be labeled as gender-neutral.

The city’s Community Development Department authored the ordinance in order to accommodate Evanston’s transgender community, department director Mark Muenzer said. Under the ordinance, public single-occupancy restroom facilities must be designated for men, women or as gender-neutral.

Muenzer said after he was named the city’s LGBT liason last year, he worked with city staff to come up with several different ways the community could be more welcoming toward the LGBTQ community.

“We are the sixth or seventh city in the entire nation to do an ordinance like this — there are none in Illinois or Chicago that we are aware of,” Muenzer said. “We did research on comparable communities and we went through different reviews of the ordinance and got to a point that we felt was acceptable to the transgender community.”

Muenzer said although there is no official count of how many residents favor the ordinance, he has received several phone calls expressing support.  

Existing businesses with public restrooms will have 60 days to comply with the ordinance, and new businesses will be notified of its requirements.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said City Council suspended its rules designating a two-week waiting period before an ordinance is given final approval and passed it unanimously in one meeting.

Grover said city staff consulted a transgender Evanston resident named Carly Lehwald about the requirements for the ordinance. Lehwald stars with her son, Ben Lehwald, an Evanston Township High School student, on the ABC Family series “Becoming Us.” The series documents their lives navigating a marginalized identity.

Grover said Lehwald was present at the council meeting Monday and offered her support for the ordinance.

“This ordinance was to update our building codes … to make them where they need to be in terms of inclusivity,” Grover said. “To make a transgender person feel welcome and included at something as simple as a restaurant.”

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