District 6 Council Member Brett Withers has proposed an ordinance change that would allow businesses to offer gender neutral bathrooms in their establishments, an option that is currently not available.

For the proposed changes to be enacted, they will have to pass three readings of the Metro Council. On Tuesday it will meet with its second reading when it is discussed by the council’s Codes, Fair and Farmer's Market Committee and then the full council.

“I believe the chances of passage on Tuesday are good,” Withers told O&AN, “but it is always important for the Metro Council to hear from citizens and, in this case, business owners in particular.”

Read the proposed changes to the ordinance.

“The fact that this Municipal Code amendment was requested by businesses and is voluntary are two key factors,” he added. “I am responding to businesses who are simply requesting Metro's official permission to make single-user bathrooms unisex and available to all customers or employees.”

Back in April, WSMV reported on the expansion plans of Wild Cow, a restaurant in East Nashville. The business was planning to build another, called Graze, but the expansion was halted when a codes inspector visited the site. He noticed the plan included no reference to either male or female with regard to the two bathrooms in the new business.

Owner Melanie Cochran told channel 4, “He said that we have to have a man’s sign and a woman’s sign on each one to designate which one is for men and which one is for women.”

In response, Withers has proposed a change to the ordinance overseeing public bathrooms in the city. The proposed ordinance change would not compel any business to offer gender neutral bathrooms in their establishment. It would simply allow business owners that option.

Since introducing the proposed ordinance changes, Council Member Withers has received positive endorsements from a number of area businesses.

“In addition to the owners of Wild Cow/Graze,” he said, “I have also received support from Heather Parsons-McCormack at Marche, as well as from Randy Rayburn who is a legendary restaurateur and a Lockeland Springs resident.  I have also had positive conversations with representatives of the Tennessee Hospitality Association and the LGBT Chamber.”

As for dissent in the greater Nashville community, Withers feels that because the ordinance changes would give business owners just the option to provide gender neutral bathrooms—and it is notable that only businesses with single use bathrooms will be eligible—there is little cause for objection.

In fact, it seems many businesses have unwittingly been skirting around the law for some time. Business have been known to replace signage on their bathroom doors, eliminating the gender directive, in order to accommodate customers that they feel shouldn’t have to wait to use their intended single-use bathroom when another is freely available.

“I think that most Nashvillians will not even notice this change,” he said. “Or if they do, [they] will welcome it.  I have received comments from citizens stating that in some cases if a restaurant's restroom signed for their gender is being utilized, that they simply use the other restroom rather than wait.”

Withers stressed the importance of having community members’ participating in the run-up to these readings, that community support is necessary even for seemingly small progressive steps such as this one.

“Citizens need to let legislators know what we do want just as much as, if not more than, what we do not want,” he said. “Even small positive changes take effort.  I appreciate the support that I have received so far for this bill and view this as a positive step for Nashville's business climate and welcoming reputation.”

The Tennessee Equality Project has created a petition in order to allow locals to express their support for the measure. Withers adds, “This ordinance will not require a public hearing, so constituent letters to the Metro Council referencing this bill (BL2016-238) are the most effective means for community support and feedback.”

“This ordinance is in effect one small step of getting Metro out of the way of a business's operations.  I think that pro-business conservatives can and should support that,” he said.









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