Hoboken may become one of first U.S. cities to mandate gender-neutral bathrooms

HOBOKEN, N.J. — It was a historic day in Hoboken for the trans community with news that the city soon may become the first in the state and among the first in the entire country to mandate gender neutral bathrooms.

Hoboken’s mayor signed an executive order on Wednesday making all city-owned, single-stall restrooms gender neutral, but Mayor Ravi Bhalla also wants the City Council to pass a ground-breaking law that would order all schools and private businesses to do the same.

"You know, as a transgender person, being able to walk into a bathroom and knowing you’ll be safe and respected is a wonderful thing many other people don’t think about,” said Rev. Peter Beeson, a Hoboken resident.

The executive order and the proposed law would apply to bathrooms that are currently single-occupant restrooms. Businesses, schools and government buildings with multiple-stall restrooms for men and women would not be required to reconstruct their bathrooms.

Still, Bhalla said Hoboken’s move is a step in there right direction and he is urging Gov. Phil Murphy and the state legislature to do the same.

"Not having to feel uncomfortable when making the choice of which restroom you’re using is something that's fundamental as Americans, in terms of advancing principals of equality,” Bhalla said.

Much of the old historical building stock in Hoboken provides enough retail or restaurant space for single-stall restrooms only. That’s the case inside one of Hoboken’s most popular long-standing restaurants.

"I have no problems with it,” said Omar Giner, chef and owner of La Isla on Washington Street. "I’ve been gender neutral since we opened up. So it’s not a big deal for us."

If the law is passed, businesses would have 60 days to comply.

"Simply changing a sign from ‘mens' or ‘womens' room to ‘restroom,' we don’t anticipate any business hardship," Bhalla said.

The ordinance will be introduced at the May 2 council meeting. A public hearing is expected at the meeting on May 16. If passed, the law could be signed by the mayor on May 17.