A measure that would allow multiple occupancy public restrooms to be labeled gender-neutral was passed by the Illinois House on Thursday with the bare minimum of votes.
The bill, which now moves to the Senate, would amend the Equitable Restroom Act of 2019, which required all single-occupancy public restrooms to be available to all genders. The amendment would only allow restrooms with two or more toilets to be available to all.
“The bill does not require gender-neutral bathrooms,” Rep. Katie Stuart, an Edwardsville Democrat who was the first sponsor of the bill, said. “Builders would choose what bathroom facilities to offer, and would be required to meet appropriate standards for toilet and urinal privacy.”
The floor debate before the vote took all of two minutes. House Republican Floor Leader Rep. Patrick Windhorst of Metropolis asked Stuart to confirm that this bill contained the same language as a bill from the previous session that was passed by the House but died in the Senate.
The bill passed with 60 yes votes, with all but one of the 40 House Republicans voting no.
“Average Illinois residents are just not for this type of agenda,” GOP Rep. Joe Sosnowski of Rockford said in an interview after the vote. “If there is an issue with identification, well, you got two separate bathrooms. Why do you need multiuse, multi-gender bathrooms? It isn’t doing anything to address that in my opinion.”
Restroom preference has become another issue feeding the national culture wars. Earlier this week, Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed into law a measure that prevents transgender people in public schools from using restrooms matching the gender with which they identify.
The Illinois bill is not specific to schools, though it allows for any multiple-occupancy restroom to be identified as an all-gender facility. It would require the restroom to have specific signage, stall dividers and partitions for urinals.
The bill also requires sufficient numbers of toilets or stalls to be available for male and female patrons. The Illinois Department of Public Health would be tasked with establishing rules for enforcing the measure, and these bathrooms would also be subject to health or building inspections.
The bill passed through the House Human Services Committee on Feb. 22 in a 6-3 party-line vote. Stuart noted during the hearing that a similar bill passed through the House a few years ago but didn’t make it through the Senate.
She said the bill allows for businesses, universities and other places the option to create a multi-stall gender-neutral restroom.
State Rep. Charles Meier, a Republican from Okawville, raised concerns during the hearing about whether some larger facilities could be equipped to handle multi-stalled, gender neutral bathrooms.
“Think of in large arenas where you’ve got people stacked high and low, you only have so much space. A lot of people will not want to go into an all-gender restroom, and you won’t have no space,” Meier said at the hearing. “You know, when buildings are plumbed you’re plumbing is run through certain areas that are heated and they’re air-conditioned so they don’t freeze. And other parts of these big outdoor arenas aren’t. And so, you’re adding a lot of cost into that.”
Stuart stressed that arenas that are worried about space don’t have to include such restrooms because they would be optional.
“If an arena is worried about the space they do not have to create such a restroom,” she told Meier. “That’s why it’s permissive and it’s because we understand types of constraints like that.”
Gorner reported from Springfield.