NEW YORK CITY — City agencies are now required to allow New Yorkers to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, according to an executive order signed Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The order affects 2,200 bathrooms in 55 city-run buildings and will end discrimination and embarrassment that many transgender and non-gender conforming New Yorkers face when trying to do something as simple as use the restroom, the mayor said.
"We want people to know they can go about their lives and not be excluded. That's why this is so important," de Blasio said during a press conference at the Chelsea Recreation Center.
"This is about affirming the right of someone to follow through on their own identity."
The executive order places the city in line with recent legal guidance issued by the New York City Commission on Human Rights that says any employer, housing provider or public accommodation that denies access to single sex bathrooms based on gender identity may face prosecution for violating the city's Human Rights Law.
When de Blasio was a city councilman in 2002, he sponsored successful legislation making gender a protected class under the city's Human Rights Law.
"This city is the birthplace of the LGBT civil rights movement and we are proud of that," de Blasio said. "That work doesn't have an endpoint."
The order will not cost the city any money since no signage needs to be changed. One of the major benefits is the training that will be given to municipal staff, said Carmelyn Malalis, commissioner and chair of the Commission on Human Rights.
The order also requires city agencies to post the new bathroom gender policy in a conspicuous location for employees and members of the public within three months and to take steps to implement permanent training standards.
The problem the order addresses is widespread.
A survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 22 percent of respondents said they had been denied access to the gender appropriate bathroom at work and 26 percent reported being denied proper bathroom access in an educational setting.
Bianey Garcia, a transgender woman who is a board member of advocacy group Make the Road New York, said she "felt humiliated" when a restaurant owner prevented her from using the ladies restroom.
"Access to the ladies bathroom is my right as a human being," Garcia said.
Yet states around the country are considering legislation that would place restrictions on and even criminalize a transgender person using a bathroom that conforms with their gender identity.
One proposed bill prohibits transgender men and women from using the restroom of the gender they identify with unless they have had surgery.
New York City is moving in the opposite direction, said openly gay councilman Corey Johnson.
In 2014, he sponsored successful legislation that would allow transgender men and women to change the sex on their birth certificate without having to prove they had gender reassignment surgery.
Garcia said the executive order would make a difference because "what happens in New York City sets an example for the rest of the country and the world."