Milwaukee County Executive advances gender-neutral bathroom initiative

Posted at 10:51 PM, Jun 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-10 23:57:14-04

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is working to make bathrooms in county buildings gender-neutral.
He made the announcement on the opening day of Pridefest, Milwaukee's festival celebrating the LGBT community.

Abele is starting with his own office at the county courthouse. He says anyone who comes to meet with him, can use whichever bathroom they feel more comfortable in. While this only applies to his office right now, he says this is just the first step.

"It's not nearly as panic-worthy as some people seem intent on making it," Abele says.

He wants to replace traditional "men's" and "women's" bathroom signs, so county-building bathrooms are instead "all-inclusive."

He'll have to get funding approval from the Milwaukee County Board. And what about public approval?

"I would not feel comfortable going in the men's bathroom with women in it," says Ryan Reid. "I'm really not for that. In the general purpose of safety. Children's safety especially."

Patty Quesnell questions why gender-neutral bathrooms are often considered a danger to kids.

"There's no proof of that," she says. "So show me some proof of that."

Quesnell says she's talked with her 10-year-old son about the issue.

"We teach him that if people choose to change genders - If there's a man wanting to be a woman, or a woman wanting to be a man - that's ok," she says. "It doesn't make that person bad or perverted."

Some local businesses like Riverwest Public House and Wolf Peach have offered gender-neutral bathrooms for years, and both say they've had no problems or complaints.

"There's always the dire predictions of apocalyptic stuff that never happens," Abele says. "Historically, people have said the same things about pretty much ever advancement in civil rights. What does end up happening, is we become a stronger, more inclusive community."