Humberto Villarruel, a 21-year-old Everett Community College student, uses the mirror in an all-gender restroom in the Parks Student Union on campus Tuesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Humberto Villarruel, a 21-year-old Everett Community College student, uses the mirror in an all-gender restroom in the Parks Student Union on campus Tuesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Public gender-neutral restrooms are open for business

With high-walled locking stalls, privacy is protected. And traditional options are still available.

During a recent stop at Everett Community College, I was washing my hands in a Parks Student Union restroom when in walked a young man. Oops — had I entered the wrong place?

He seemed not at all surprised to see me. I left in a hurry. Outside the restroom entryway, I saw what I’d missed. With a gender-neutral figure, a sign says: “All are welcome to use this ADA restroom.” And beneath a star on the sign, it says “This symbol identifies All Gender restrooms across campus.”

“I think it’s a really good start in equality,” said Humberto Villarruel. On Tuesday morning, the 21-year-old EvCC student was using the mirror and sink in that restroom, which has floor-to-ceiling locking stalls.

Near the Parks Café and EvCC’s Pride Center, it isn’t the only restroom in the building. Traditional gender-specific restrooms are elsewhere in the Parks Student Union, and all over campus.

Raised in Lake Stevens, Villarruel said he’s a gay man who came out as a senior in high school. These days, he said, “I know how to defend myself and stand up for myself.” But he acknowledged that at times he felt less comfortable when he was younger.

Feeling safe and comfortable should be a given, especially while using a restroom.

On the Snohomish County campus in downtown Everett, two multi-stall gender-neutral restrooms opened in August. They’re in the Robert J. Drewel Administration Building near the Human Services Department, in what were once men’s and women’s restrooms. A urinal was removed from the men’s room. Walls in the locking stalls reach from the floor nearly to the ceiling.

Colton Smith, 22, was among those who used one of two new gender-neutral restrooms in Snohomish County’s Robert J. Drewel Administration Building on Monday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Colton Smith, 22, was among those who used one of two new gender-neutral restrooms in Snohomish County’s Robert J. Drewel Administration Building on Monday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Ken Klein, an executive director in the county executive’s office, said the impetus came from both employee support and a state rule change. “We started because of our equity-inclusion work,” he said.

In December 2015, a change to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 162-32-060) ruled that “All covered entities shall allow individuals the use of gender-segregated facilities, such as restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and homeless or emergency shelters, that are consistent with that individual’s gender expression or gender identity.”

The new courthouse addition will have one single-occupancy restroom on each of its five floors, Klein said.

At EvCC, the Parks building’s two multi-stall all-gender restrooms opened in the fall of 2017, said college spokeswoman Katherine Schiffner. EvCC “has always had some single-stall bathrooms,” she said. Those are marked with a star on the campus map.

Justyce Wright, a program assistant with EvCC’s Welcome Center, was a student on campus when the all-gender restrooms opened. “A student had expressed concern,” said Wright, 22, who helps advise EvCC’s Triangle Alliance, a club involving LGBTQ students.

Some are uneasy using a gendered restroom, Wright said, while there are those whose gender is “outwardly ambiguous, and don’t want to make others uncomfortable.”

“A lot of my trans friends felt uncomfortable in bathrooms,” Wright said. Some, he said, even had health consequences from drinking no fluids or avoiding using a restroom all day.

With baby-changing stations and wheelchair accessibility, the restrooms are good options for parents and caregivers.

Gender-neutral restrooms are also available at Edmonds Community College and on the University of Washington’s Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses.

Kevin McKay, EdCC’s vice president for finance and operations, said the first all-gender restrooms on campus were in place about three years ago, in single-use restrooms. For the most part, he said, “signage and getting the word out was all that was required.”

Soon, there were conversations at EdCC about more all-gender options. Students and staff were involved, McKay said, “with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and the Queer Action Team providing most of the work and research.”

Along with support for the change, there were some “concerns and questions across campus, which is to be expected,” McKay said. With state approval to use capital funding, EdCC will soon start the conversion of two large restrooms into all-gender facilities, McKay said.

Klein said response to the county’s gender-neutral restrooms has been positive. “It’s starting to become more the norm,” said Klein, who has seen many all-gender restrooms while traveling with his wife in her native Canada.

In the county building Monday, 22-year-old Colton Smith had just used the gender-neutral restroom. Asked if not having a urinal was any problem, he said “I don’t have a urinal at home either.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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