THOUGHTS ON NORTH CAROLINA HOUSE BILL 2
A basic human need is to use a toilet.
In the 19th Century, public toilets were created to meet sanitary needs.
Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act; January 26, 1991) public toilets required access for all.
HB2 wants to define who and how someone can use a public toilet.
HB2 is a regressive piece of social engineering.
North Carolina HB2 has become a Mexican standoff, with both sides ready to go to war in the courts for years while costing NC taxpayers billions in lost business and Federal dollars, particularly for education. The time is past to call for the repeal of HB2 and to bring together both sides, mellowing the rhetoric, and hammering out real solutions.
As an architect, I have tried to focused on some of the issues and potential solutions in the evolution on this subject.
The intent of HB2 is to protect citizens from situations considered dangerous or offensive. Preventing cross dressing pedophiles from molesting my children is something I would support, but HB2 does not do this. HB2 provides an exemption that appears to allow a parent or guardian to take their child 6 and under into a public toilet or shower: “4a For a minor under the age of seven who accompanies a person caring for that minor.” Under HB2 a guardian disciplining by spanking a child in a public toilet might be considered not properly “caring” but abusing and molesting a child. Different segments of our society view social actions, particularly on children differently. The line between someone “molesting,” “abusing,” “disciplining,” and “caring,” is often legally clouded. Mothers who take a 7-year-old son into a women’s toilet are violating HB2. HB2 is very vague in defining if a father is allowed to be the caregiver who is permitted to help his 8-year-old mentally retarded daughter in a toilet. When lawmakers create and sign bills like HB2 they make difficult situations almost impossible for parents and others.
At the heart of HB2 is the assumption that all human beings are born either “male” or “female.” Scientific evidence has established that many transgenders were created by God with both male and female chromosomes and genitals. The sex on a birth certificate as defined by a doctor is not always accurate. All people who need to use a toilet, including transgenders, should be allowed to use a public toilet in safety, privacy and with dignity. The record relating to problems caused by transgenders, does not warrant the war caused by HB2. Please see note at end regarding Transgenders.
Under HB2 a transgender person can be required before entering a public toilet to verify their sexual identity with a birth certificate. Since it is not easy to determine the biology of all citizens from how they look and dress, to meet the sex identity standard for all citizens to use a public toilet, everyone will now be required to carry a birth certificate. Given the extensive issues about identification needed for voting in NC, one must raise the concern about citizens needing to carry a birth certificate just to use a toilet. Further, in NC to receive a birth certificate there is a cost and required identification.
Apparently HB2 has no standards for enforcement or penalties. HB2 is a moral dictate of social engineering that is regressive from NC government.
WHAT HB2 DOES NOT DO
Neither HB2, focusing on transgenders who have no statistical record of being molesters, nor the providing of an assisted unisex family toilet, alters the ability of a cross dressing pedophile from grabbing a small child, dragging them into a space, and molesting them. Protection of our children still falls on parents, caregivers, citizens and the police. Protecting our children demands we promote enlightened legislation with proper penalties for criminals.
Most of the concerns raised in HB2 could have been eliminated had a requirement moving forward that assisted unisex family toilets be available (see note 1). Unisex family toilets build on a generation of accessible standards that have made our environment safer, better for all, and America a world leader in access for all. Unisex family toilets are often the preferred solution for severely disabled who need help from a spouse, they allow parents with children to be in a safe space, they can eliminate the issues of sexual identity, they are single use spaces that meet the diverse needs of countless members of our society.
LACK OF FINANCING SOLUTIONS UNDER HB2
Although HB2 seems to want to promote the use of a unisex family toilet, as it should, there is no guidance as to how to construct or finance assisted unisex family toilets. Providing these toilets in existing buildings and in new construction is an additional cost to developers, builders, government and our society. Target has just announced a program to provide unisex family toilets in all of its stores with a budget of $20 million dollars.
EXPANDING AND BUILDING ON CURRENT ACCESSIBLE LAWS
Passing laws that require all new construction to provide a fully accessible men and women’s toilet, plus an additional Assisted Family Unisex Toilet is an optimum solution. For purposes of this paper, which suggests that some building code modifications might be needed, I have chosen to use the term “Assisted Family Unisex Toilet” (see note 1) In common terms, this is a space that might even vary in specific requirements by occupancy, that meets the current “unisex toilet” under the ADA, the needs of a family, a child in a school, and all of the additional social issues including transgender and privacy that allow anyone alone or with a caregiver to help. There could even be elements that go beyond the current requirements that provide additional assistance and potentially act to better meet emergency needs in such situations. Forcing existing buildings to be modified is a more complex issue that may require incentives and tax advantages for owners who add a unisex family toilet. This would not be much different than the tax incentives already in place for the historic preservation of buildings.
Let me consider a specific situation of a small office building where the current code might require two to six toilets each for men and women. Currently those toilets must be fully Handicapped Accessible. A consideration might be to providing a public men and women’s toilets that are not handicapped accessible when a unisex toilet is provided. This would require transferring the current handicapped regulations to the accessible unisex family toilet. The potential cost savings could mean that in new construction you can provide men and women’s toilets while also providing an accessible unisex family toilet at the same cost. The Accessible Community has fought tooth and nail for years to receive the full dignity and access they deserve. To some, this alternative approach may seem to be backtracking. To others this could imply providing separate but equal. Neither of these is the intent here, but this sensitive issue deserves a serious public debate.
Eliminating the accessible requirement that increase the space and fixtures for a men and women’s public toilets would decrease the costs about the same as adding an accessible unisex cost. Because of the issues of reduce and the cost, I believe we should at least debate what are the optimum solutions.
MY HISTORY AS AN ARCHITECT
I began designing unisex toilets over 30 years ago. Initially I designed fully accessible men and women’s handicapped toilets, thinking I was doing the best. Then, I got pulled aside and was told that a unisex toilet was preferred for many severely disabled individuals who needed a spousal help. As was also pointed out, a single use toilet room that was fully handicap accessible would also meet the needs of others including parents and schools.
Because 30 years ago, a unisex toilet was not required by the building code, the added cost was a problem to developers and builders. During this time, there were conflicts in what the code would allow so even providing a unisex family toilet could slow approval. Then I began to understand that a fully accessible men and women’s toilet next to a unisex toilet was actually somewhat redundant. With the 30% savings in construction costs of not making a public men’s and women’s toilet accessible, I saved enough to provide a fully accessible unisex family toilet. 30 years ago, we need to consider that the standards and building codes could vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The ADA was very helpful in standardizing the requirements throughout the US.
Over the years, this alternative seems to have been lost in the translation. The current federal standards require that when you have a unisex toilet adjacent to a men and women’s toilets that 50% must be fully accessible. That means the standards requires that if you to have the unisex toilet and the women’s toilet accessible, you need not make the men’s toilet accessible. My opinion is that this configuration is not really logical and creates an additional cost.
DIFFERENT PARTS OF SOCIETY HAVE DIFFERENT NEEDS
For a small portion of our citizens, providing an accessible unisex family toilet is an issue of safety, privacy and dignity. According to the 2010 Census about 10 percent of the population is severely disabled. Transgender represent about 1 to 2 percent of the population. I am not sure of the number of parents who need to take their children into a family bathroom. The issue should not be focused on making it more difficult to use a toilet or the need for all of us to start carrying a birth certificate, but how we can meet the broadest needs of all with the least government oversite and costs. The public unisex family toilet has evolved to be a practical and cost efficient way to solve many complex human issues. We need to work together to make it the standard in all new construction in NC.
Addressing the issues of showers in schools has become a flash point. Allowing a male to enter a girl’s shower, is different than providing privacy for a transgender who identifies as a girl, but still has a penis. Men do not belong in a women’s shower, but transgenders deserve our respect and privacy. I have discussed this and other related issues with several educators and officials. They have all been enlightened and are tired of the battles that HB2 creates. They have been working since long before HB2 to meet the needs of our diverse society with dignity. The legislature should repeal HB2 and openly discuss how to provide incentives and dollars to make the physical changes to our buildings among other alternatives. Promoting the necessary modifications of our built environment by continuing the struggle in the evolution of our society moving toward the dream of access for all is far more logical than the government of NC fighting a losing war costing billions, years of court battles, and accomplishing little. The goal should have been on “proper” access for all; promoting sanitary, healthy, clean, and safe facilities that allow all of us to use a toilet in privacy and dignity. COMMENTS ARE WELCOME
COPY OF HB2
This is a link to HB2: http://www.ncleg.net/sessions/2015e2/bills/house/pdf/h2v4.pdf
Note 1: ASSISTED UNISEX FAMILY TOILET
Thousands of pages have been written defining what are the standards for toilet design. My intention is to provide general thoughts and recommendations specifically related to requiring what I will define as a Assisted Unisex Family Toilet. Quoting
The ADA Companion Guide Understanding The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) by Marcela Abadi Rhoads, AIA, RAS John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken, 2010, Chapter 2:
“213.2.1 Unisex (Single-Use or Family) Toilet and Unisex Bathing Rooms. Unisex toilet rooms shall contain not more than one lavatory, and two water closets without urinals or one water closet and one urinal. Unisex bathing rooms shall contain one shower or one shower and one bathtub, one lavatory, and one water closet. Doors to unisex toilet rooms and unisex bathing rooms shall have privacy latches.”
This is a fully accessible space for Handicapped, Family and individuals the need or desire privacy. Further it could be expanded to allow for stretchers or other emergency and general uses that could provide additional benefit.
WHY ATTACKING TRANSGENDERS IS PERSONALLY OFFENSIVE TO ME
Until HB2 became law, I had almost forgotten something my mother taught me when I was 11, the age my son now is. My mother, was a very prim and proper lady who grew up on a family farm created before Ohio was a State. Her roots were very politically and socially conservative, yet for her generation she was progressive and held a university degree. She told me about a friend she grew up with, who when born, God had not decided if the child was a boy or girl. She told me that the doctor surgically made a decision about the sex and put the decision on the birth certificate. Mom described how her friend struggled growing up as apparently the doctor’s decision had not been the right one. Mom taught me to respect people like her friend, that today we call transgender.
ABOUT STATLER GILFILLEN ARCHITECT MBA
I am an Architect, MBA with over 25 years of professional experience. I grew up in a politically conservative family, the son of a church architect, with family roots going back to the first ships arriving in Boston. I have a younger sister who functions on a 6 to 12-year level. My family was dedicated to working with and understanding special needs and disabilities. I have spent a career teaching and professionally working to make our environment accessible to all. Because of an accident I spent six months of my life either in a wheel chair or with severely limited mobility. My wife and I share three children ages 11 to 16 that we teach that under God and the Constitution all humans are equal. The current laws can be so specific that they become very complex and confusing. For me the issue is not being perfect in understanding everything, but in trying to focus on access for all with dignity. I welcome others teaching me about and from their experiences. However, I am also aware that there are many situations where as a society we must carefully judge the costs and benefits of our actions and how we can and should use our finances both in the public and private sector.
Revised and posted August 22