Sandy Colvin Roy isn’t afraid to tackle big issues, from light rail to water quality to airport noise mitigation.
Fortunately, the longtime Minneapolis City Council member is pursuing a small issue, too — about 12 feet by 14 feet, with a sink.
At a City Council meeting May 24, Roy shared her intent to get archaic language axed from the Minneapolis code of ordinances that requires bars and restaurants to offer separate bathrooms for males and females.
That joyful noise you hear?
Cries of gratitude from women and girls around the world, who have given up years of our lives to standing in lines. Our bladders now have equal rights so, excuse me, buddy, but I was here first.
Big thanks for the potential change, though, goes to a man. And not just any man.
Since mid-May, Roy’s 12th Ward challenger, Andrew Johnson, has been posting city ordinances from the sublimely ridiculous to the generally ridiculous on his Facebook page.
“Most ordinances are there for a reason,” said Johnson, a 28-year-old Longfellow resident and community leader. “But many are silly and antiquated.”
Johnson pointed out, for example, that pretty much nobody, from your favorite local bakery to major grocery stores, is baking or selling bread to code, which requires, among other peculiarities, a white label “not to exceed one-and-one-half inches square.”
Johnson’s digging isn’t meant to shut everybody down. It’s to do just the opposite, by modernizing or dumping laws so that the small businesses that keep our community buzzing can operate legally and affordably.
“I hear constantly from businesses about red tape, and the hoops they have to jump through,” Johnson said. He and Roy both point out that building gender-specific bathrooms can be prohibitively expensive for small businesses.
Roy first heard about the issue, in fact, when tagged in a post from a ward resident doing a major renovation on a business that serves beer and wine.
“They were being required to install two single-stall bathrooms to be labeled women and men,” she said. “The business owner didn’t complain, but did wonder, ‘Isn’t it ridiculous to spend all this additional money?’ ”
(Roy, who plans to introduce the amendment to committee Friday, emphasizes the “single” in single-stall bathroom to assure people that they won’t be required to share the loo with anybody, male or female. Think airplane bathroom, but with room to turn.)
Johnson is pleased that his opponent got wind of his Facebook campaign and is pushing the potty issue. But he wouldn’t mind acknowledgment that he’s the source.
“As a city resident, I’m pleased she’s taking up the issue,” he said of Roy, the incumbent. “But, I mean, it shouldn’t take the work of a political challenger to motivate you to dig into these things.”
Roy said the issue “is so practical.” And she dug through her e-mail chain on Wednesday and acknowledged that the original poster did thank “Andrew Johnson for starting this.”
“This” is city ordinance 368.90, which shows its age by spelling out bathroom requirements for “taverns.” Kids, that’s what they used to call bars a long time ago.
“In each tavern where beer is sold pursuant to an on-sale beer license … at least one toilet room for each sex shall be plainly marked to indicate whether for men or women.”
As we all know, separate “toilet rooms” are by no means limited to taverns. Women have nearly missed flights and second acts of theater performances waiting, waiting, waiting for the comfort of a stall as men, comfortably seated, wonder, “Where’d she go?”
Unfortunately, the change won’t affect most public buildings with multiple stalls. Still, a girl can dream.
Gender-neutral bathrooms have become a battle cry for other groups as well. Elderly caregivers and parents of young children benefit from family restrooms or unisex bathrooms to assist family members.
The concept is welcome news, as well, for people who are transgender, some of whom have experienced assaults after walking into public facilities.
Roy senses that the issue has strong support, but change isn’t a given. “We can strip the language from the city ordinance, but it might still require action at the state,” Roy said.
Meanwhile, many venues already have responded to that universal call of nature. I discovered this through the wholly 21st-century website, safe2pee.org, which lists an abundance of gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the Twin Cities.
So far, though, toilet facilities remain firmly divided at City Hall.