One of my more recent work trips provided the opportunity to stay the weekend and catch up with one of my college girlfriends in North Carolina. I rode the Amtrak from Charlotte to Durham, where my friend met me at the station. We had dinner and drinks in downtown Durham before heading to her home in Raleigh.
One of the places she took me for drinks in Durham was the 21c Museum Hotel which is a cross between a boutique hotel and a trendy art museum. The original building was a bank, and the space still has the original bank vault in the basement. It’s a really cool space. But what really drew my eye were the restrooms, which were located on the second floor. Once I reached the area, I saw a row of single-user spaces on each side of the hallway. That’s not the unusual part. The unusual part was the door and walls were made of glass — you could see right into the room. That’s right, the toilet, sink — everything — was on display from the hallway. Once you went inside and locked the door, the walls and door turned opaque, so nobody could see through. Also eye-catching were the signs on the doors with a half-man, half-woman restroom outline with the words, “We don’t care.”
I’ve been running into more and more all-gender restrooms in my travels. But that was my first experience with futuristic see-through glass.
I’m happy to see the inclusion of more all-gender restrooms around the U.S. I remember the major controversies surrounding the topic a few years ago — most notably, North Carolina’s bathroom bill, which prevented transgender people in the state from using bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity.
I, for one, have always hated having to use public restrooms because I’m worried about the cleanliness of the facilities. Imagine trying to go to the bathroom and being misgendered and harassed. Multiple studies have shown that to be the case when it comes to transgendered and non-binary people. No one should have to fear embarrassment or ridicule to use a public restroom. All-gender restrooms provide a solution, not only for the trans and non-binary communities but for parents and guardians of young children of the opposite sex and for caregivers of those who are elderly or have disabilities.
Promoting diversity and inclusivity with all-gender restrooms is becoming more common amongst workplaces, hospitality and entertainment venues by simply converting single occupancy restrooms and family rooms to gender-neutral and changing the sign.
The building codes have also been an ally in this movement. Presently, both 2021 edition plumbing codes — International Plumbing Code (IPC) and Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) — require any single-occupant toilet room to be identified as all-gender, meaning we are universally moving away from men’s and women’s restrooms.
Additionally, the IPC 2021 edition allows all-gender toilet rooms for multiple use toilet rooms. The code requires privacy for each water closet. It also requires urinals to be in separate compartments or visually obstructed. The UPC will allow all-gender toilet rooms for multiple use toilet rooms in the 2024 edition. The 2021 edition still prohibits multiple use all-gender toilet rooms. In the 2024 edition of the UPC, all-gender toilet rooms will be allowed with a requirement that the water closets are in Type A privacy compartments complying with IAPMO Z124.10. For urinals, they must be located in privacy compartments.
IAPMO is also actively seeking public input for the development of its Manual of Recommended Practice for Toilet Room Design: All Gender, Health, Safety, Privacy, and Security. The manual will address all-gender toilet room design. The deadline to submit comments is Dec. 19.
According to veteran PM Engineer Columnist Julius Ballanco, PE, CPD, F-ASPE, president of J.B. Engineering and Code Consulting, the growing popularity of all-gender restrooms is being pushed by architects, the transgender community and certain women’s groups looking for equality in use. “Multiple use all-gender toilet rooms are also being promoted by colleges and universities. Hence, there will be a growing interest in converting to all-gender toilet rooms on college campuses. Personally, I hope all-gender toilet rooms grow in popularity. I think they will benefit the public and add security to the use of toilet rooms. I became a believer after using all-gender toilet rooms on a number of recent visits to Europe. It seemed so normal in Europe.”
I can only concur, having used them in Europe myself. I’m definitely a fan, maybe just not of the ones with see-through glass.
Whatever your religion this holiday season, I wish you joy, peace and happiness. Cheers to 2023!