A bill that requires all single-user public bathrooms to be marked as gender-neutral has been signed into law in Vermont. State lawmakers and activists say they hope the new law sends a “powerful message” to the rest of the nation.
“Vermont is the state that often has to show the rest of the United States where to go and how to get there,” Brenda Churchill, a representative of the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont, told The Associated Press last week.
Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed H.333 on Friday after it was passed unanimously by the state Senate and by an overwhelming majority in the House.
“Two years ago, when I was running for governor, I was asked in a debate whether I would support gender-neutral bathrooms in public places or not,” said Scott as he signed the legislation, according to CNN. “I responded with a one-word answer, a simple yes. Because to me it was just that simple ... And now two years later I am honored to be able to sign that legislation into law today.”
Scott went on to say that he believed the measure, which will take effect on July 1, is “especially important for kids in school who face anxiety and bullying over something as simple as using the restroom.”
“Treating others in this way is not who we are as Vermonters, and I hope the signing of this bill will send a powerful message that that’s not the way we act,” he continued.
The law mandates that all single-user bathrooms in public buildings and places of public accommodation, such as schools, restaurants and workplaces, be “identified as gender-free.” The law does not apply to bathrooms with more than one toilet.
Churchill told Seven Days magazine that the new legislation was a “big step forward” for the state. “Every Vermonter will now have more opportunity to be able to use a bathroom,” Churchill said.
State Sen. Becca Ballint (D) said the bill would be beneficial to “many Vermonters.”
“For trans people and gender non-conforming individuals, it provides safe public accommodations,” she told the Burlington Free Press. “For men and women stuck in long bathroom lines, it provides access to any available single-user bathroom. And for caregivers and their charges, whether children or folks with disabilities needing assistance, it provides access to a bathroom that is not marked for one particular gender, thus alleviating the anxiety that’s caused by needing to choose a gendered bathroom.”
Supporters suggested the law sends a pointed message, given the Trump administration’s rescinding last year of protections for transgender students to use school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Several states have since attempted to pass bills that would make it illegal for people to use bathrooms that don’t correspond with the sex assigned to them at birth.
“Too many states are passing ‘bathroom bills’ that move in the wrong direction, discriminating against LGBTQIA individuals and forcing schoolchildren to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender at birth, not their chosen gender identity,” state House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said in a statement. “In a time where LBGTQIA rights are being rolled back on the federal level, when the Trump administration isn’t protecting children, it is our duty to step in.”