The city of Minneapolis will add “all-gender” restrooms to its buildings in a nod of support for the transgender community.

The $17,000 project will change signs and make security upgrades, such as new locks, at 62 gender-neutral restrooms at 44 city facilities, including department offices, fire and police stations, Public Works facilities and city-owned parking ramps over the next few weeks. The restrooms will be available for anyone to use, and separate men’s and women’s restrooms will continue to exist.

“We see this as part of providing better service overall to members of the public as well as to our own city staff,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who pushed for the establishment of the city’s new Transgender Equity Council. “We want to make sure people are comfortable going into restrooms.”

The use of public bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender people has been a point of fierce debate across the country.

The Trump administration reversed Obama-era guidance that called for public school district to let transgender students use the bathrooms that match their gender identity. But North Carolina recently repealed a law regulating transgender people’s use of bathrooms in public buildings after intense backlash from people, companies and sports leagues that called the measure discriminatory.

In Minnesota, a group of parents and students sued an Iron Range school district in 2016 after it allowed a transgender student to use the girls’ locker room at Virginia High School.

The lawsuit was recently dropped without explanation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. And Minneapolis-based Target has faced boycotts from some conservative groups after announcing that transgender customers could use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity.

Transgender policies

The Minneapolis “all-gender” bathroom move is part of a broader effort within the city to identify disparities and create policies that are inclusive of the transgender community and transgender employees.

The topic of gender-inclusive restrooms bubbled up at City Hall in 2014, in discussions among a transgender issues working group. The group made a recommendation for gender-neutral bathrooms two years later. The advisory group has worked with Minneapolis officials on a variety of issues, including policing, employment and doing business with the city.

Phil Duran, legal director for the LGBT advocacy group OutFront Minnesota, served on the advisory group and said the effort to add gender-neutral bathrooms was a long a process and one that will make “a lot of people very happy to see.”

“It’s important to the LGBT community because there are many members of the community who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming in some way. Many of them have experienced problems trying to access bathrooms that are strictly defined in terms of gender,” Duran said. Gender-neutral bathrooms are crucial facilities “they can actually use without fear or harassment.”

City officials are also planning future changes to locker rooms and shower facilities, and exploring ways to accommodate all genders as they build new facilities or remodel buildings.