By March, all 164 city-owned single-use bathrooms will have new signs marked for all genders.
The executive policy signed Sept. 1 by Mayor Ken Welch applies to all single-use and family bathrooms in city facilities, including those that are under rental agreements, such as at the Mahaffey Theater, Al Lang Stadium and Tropicana Field. The policy comes with a compliance grace period of six months.
The rule change came too late to count in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index, which evaluates cities on how they support LGBTQ+ people who live and work there. It was announced Friday that St. Petersburg earned a perfect score for the 10th year in a row.
But it was the Municipal Equality Index, which does factor in whether cities have single-occupancy all-gender facilities, that inspired the policy change, said Jim Nixon, the city’s LGBTQ+ liaison. He said City Hall changed its single-use bathrooms to all-gender in 2017 and did the same at the Coliseum last year.
“We just felt like this was a good opportunity to make that change since we had made it here in City Hall,” Nixon said. “It was just an opportunity that we had seen this becoming a bigger issue.”
He said a review of city-owned facilities, including an audit of parks and recreation facilities, found that the signage on single-use bathrooms was inconsistent, with some buildings older or newer than others. Nixon said the policy will make it consistent and change the bathroom markers to say all-gender, without gender-specific markers.
“We’re eliminating gender identity restriction and making them all gender so trans individuals feel safe using individual facilities,” he said.
The changes come months after a state law went into effect July 1 that would charge people who enter a bathroom or facility designated for the “opposite sex” and refuse to leave with a misdemeanor. City restrooms with multiple stalls are still separately designated for men and women.
“It (lets our) transgender siblings ... know there are facilities available that they’re safer to use,” Nixon said. “With everything that’s happening and the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community ... from the state, we’re always looking at opportunities to make St. Pete a safe city for all of our residents.”
According to the 2023 Municipal Equality Index Scorecard online, St. Petersburg won six extra bonus points as part of a “flex score” for having openly LGBTQ+ elected or appointed leaders, including former City Council member Amy Foster serving as the city’s housing and neighborhood services administrator. Flex points are given to cities because state regulations may preempt municipalities from scoring a perfect 100.
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The Human Rights Campaign evaluated 18 cities in Florida, one of a handful of states identified as under a “state of emergency” for LGBTQ+ people. That designation notes that certain states have impacted cities’ abilities to provide benefits to LGBTQ+ populations.
Tampa was the only other city given a score in Tampa Bay. Tampa also received a perfect score, with extra points given for protecting youth from conversion therapy and for its city employee domestic partner benefits. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is openly gay.
St. Petersburg got points for providing services for youth and youth bullying prevention. A 2019 anti-bullying policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity and orientation. Nixon worked with the Pinellas Homeless Alliance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to properly count the homeless LGBTQ+ population, which Nixon said is proportional to the city’s LGBTQ+ population.
Though St. Petersburg is not currently giving direct financial aid or services for people living with HIV or AIDS, the city still received points for such support in the past. Nixon said the city has previously awarded grants to Metro Inclusive Health and AIDS Health Foundation, and the community grants program open to receiving applications.