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City Council responds to need for restroom policy

By Staff | Aug 30, 2015

A new Blue Earth city policy is the direct result of an incident that happened at the Blue Earth Municipal Swimming Pool a month ago.

“The city responded to a complaint from a citizen about a transgender person using the locker rooms,” city attorney David Frundt says. “We asked the person to please use the family restroom for changing, and the person did volunteer to do that.”

However, that started Frundt and city administrator Tim Ibisch on the trail of developing some sort of policy for the usage of city owned restroom and locker room facilities.

Frundt says that while doing research on a possible policy, he discovered there really is not a model policy from groups such as the League of Minnesota Cities.

“There are somewhat similar policies for some public schools and universities,” he says, “but I could not find any from a city in similar size to Blue Earth.”

That meant the city needed to develop its own, and the new policy has been under construction and discussion at the last two City Council meetings.

Frundt will be presenting a final draft at the next council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, and both he and Ibisch expect it will pass.

“The policy indicates the city will be removing gender specific signage at city owned single user restrooms,” Frundt says.

Administrator Ibisch says that means that the two restrooms located on the outside walls of the swimming pool, currently with a men’s sign on one and a women’s sign on other, will both become just ‘gender neutral’ restrooms.

“The same goes for the City Hall,” Ibisch explains. “We now have a men’s and women’s restroom, but those signs will come down and both will be available to either sex.”

Ibisch also adds that the policy also states that if any remodeling is done in the future on locker rooms, accommodations will be made for installing privacy stalls and changing areas. But, he says, for now locker rooms will be restricted to use by a person according to their “biological gender.”

“Our goal here is to strike a balance for all of our citizens,” Ibisch says. “I want to make it clear that the person at the pool did nothing wrong. But, it made several people, especially those with young children, uncomfortable. And we knew we needed to have a policy in place to deal with this.”

He continued that they want to help any citizen of the city with any issue they may have, from property assessments to use of public facilities, and everything in between.

The new policy, entitled “Non-Discrimination in Public Accommodations,” goes farther than just covering use of restrooms.

Included is language explaining that all city employees, officials and volunteers will refer to individuals by the individual’s expressed preferred name, regardless of the legal name of the individual, as well as referring to an individual using pronouns reflecting the expressed gender of the individual.

“We want to respect a person’s preference for name and gender,” Ibisch explains. “We want our city facilities to be comfortable zones for all our citizens.”

The policy states that the change to gender neutral restrooms and other facilities will begin to be implemented now, as of Sept. 1, and all signage will be in place no later than Jan. 1, 2017.

“I think we will see more of this type of policy as schools and cities have to deal with some changes in society,” Ibisch says. “I think having this (policy) in place now puts us ahead of the game.”