Denver's gender-neutral bathroom rule takes effect Monday


An effort to add non-gendered bathrooms and baby changing stations to Colorado’s public buildings passed its last major legislative hurdle on Friday.

House Bill 1057 requires newly constructed public buildings owned or operated by the government to provide non-gendered bathrooms on each floor where gendered bathrooms are available, beginning in 2024. The buildings would also need to provide baby diaper changing stations, either in the non-gendered bathroom or in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms. 

The bill includes a one-time $450,000 appropriation to state departments to help implement the new requirements.

The Senate passed the bill on Friday, following the House's approval last month. The bill will next go back to the House to approve minor changes by the Senate, and then to Gov. Jared Polis for final consideration. 

"This bill is really about access for everybody," said bill sponsor Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont. "For everyone to feel comfortable going to a restroom." 

Proponents of the bill said gendered bathrooms are inaccessible for many groups, including transgender or nonbinary people, disabled people with caregivers of a different gender, and men with young children who can't access baby changing stations in women's bathrooms. Some critics, meanwhile, indicated they oppose it because it is framed as accommodating transgender and nonbinary people. 

Multiple lawmakers, including McCormick and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, spoke of their nonbinary children and the difficulties of finding public restrooms they can use. Bill sponsor Rep. Stephanie Vigil said she has faced these challenges firsthand.

Vigil, D-Colorado Springs, is gender fluid and uses she/they pronouns. While she doesn’t mind using women’s bathrooms, Vigil said other people have taken issue with her since she presents androgynously. When she was around 16 years old, a stranger yelled at Vigil and tried to prevent her from entering a women’s bathroom at a shopping mall, she said.

“That’s a deeply embarrassing thing for any young person to go through,” Vigil said during the bill's committee hearing. “This bill is a way to move our great state towards a model that removes any of those remaining barriers.”

Senators passed the bill in a 26-9 vote on Friday. House lawmakers voted 44-19. All Democrats supported the bill, while only three Republicans voted "yes": Sens. Jim Smallwood, Barbara Kirkmeyer and Cleave Simpson. 

Sen. Mark Baisley, the only lawmaker to speak against the bill during floor debates, said he's concerned about people who are uncomfortable with using a non-gendered bathroom. 

"The bill, while it is seeking to accommodate those who have been left out, it does so at the expense of others," Baisley, R-Woodland Park, said. "The discomfort transfers to folks who are not comfortable in sharing a bathroom with someone of an opposite gender. ... I'd appreciate some accommodation for those folks." 

The bill would not remove gendered bathrooms from public buildings, only require that a non-gendered option also be available for those who want it.

In a House committee, Republican opponents said they are not against the concept of providing non-gendered bathrooms in public buildings, but suggested their objection is due to the bill being framed as accommodating transgender and nonbinary people.

“I’m not opposed to family restrooms. I think they’re very handy. This bill has a lot of changes. It’s a lot of political hot button wording,” said Rep. Ken DeGraaf, R-Colorado Springs, while voting against the bill. “I would have preferred it if it was a clean bill saying, ‘We think you ought to build a handicapped accessible family restroom’ and left it at that.”

Rep. Ryan Armagost, R-Berthoud, echoed this sentiment: “The verbiage used in (the bill) goes against everything in my values.”

Proponents said being unable to find a non-gendered bathroom can be a safety issue for transgender and nonbinary people. Nearly 60% of transgender Americans say they avoid using public bathrooms for fear of confrontation, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. The survey also found that 12% had recently been verbally harassed in a public bathroom, 1% had been physically attacked and 9% had been denied access. 

This bill comes as other states, such as Alabama, have passed bills to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, instead making them use bathrooms corresponding with their sex assigned at birth.

Smallwood, one of the only Republicans who supported the bill, said he "doesn't understand" the controversy around providing non-gendered bathrooms. Smallwood, R-Parker, championed the portion of the bill that would allow people of all genders to access baby changing stations, saying it is "just good policy." 

"In the late '90s and early 2000s, I found myself far too frequently looking desperately for a place to change my little baby boy's diaper and ending up placing him on a passenger seat of a vehicle in a parking lot or something along those lines, praying that he doesn't roll out," Smallwood said. 

Under the bill, the bathroom requirements would not apply to K-12 schools or historic buildings, though they would apply to higher education institutions. The bill would also apply to existing public government buildings already undergoing significant bathroom renovations, and, in 2025, they would extend to all government buildings even if they’re not open to the public.

Employees who work in public buildings could file a complaint for discrimination or unfair practices with the Colorado civil rights division if the building fails to provide non-gendered bathrooms.

"This is not controversial. This is basic human nature, this is basic human respect and dignity," said bill sponsor Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont. "This is about us as Coloradans respecting all of us, because we all have to use the restroom." 

The bill is expected to be sent to Polis in the coming days. 

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