Pitkin County building bathroom to become all-inclusive, building places ‘for all people’

Pitkin County officials are planning to convert a men’s bathroom in the newly built county building on Main Street into an “all-accommodating” bathroom for transgender and other citizens, an official said Thursday.

“It’s come to our attention that we really should be looking at an all-inclusive rest room,” said Rich Englehart, assistant Pitkin County manager. “It’s really staying ahead of what is happening across the country.”

The gender-neutral bathroom —­ which will likely be located on the county building’s second floor ­— is meant not only for transgender employees, residents and visitors, he said. It will also be available to, for example, a father with a young female child needing assistance or a female nurse, relative or caretaker accompanying an elderly man, Englehart said.

The bathroom, which was not included in the plans for the county’s year-and-a-half-old new building, probably will not require any major construction, he said. Instead, officials will likely convert the men’s bathroom on the second floor to a gender-neutral designation through signage and install a lock on the door, Englehart said.

The county cannot release whether any of its employees are transgender, said Pat Bingham, county spokesperson. However, Englehart said the request for the bathroom did not come from an employee who works in the building.

Instead, the suggestion for the gender-neutral bathroom came from county public heath officials, he said.

Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said being as inclusive as possible is the healthiest way to treat people. The Health and Human Services Building, across from Aspen Valley Hospital where Koenemann works, has a gender-neutral, single-stall bathroom available.

“To me, equity and inclusion are values,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re building places, spaces and programs for all people.”

The discussion about gender-neutral or “gender-inclusive” bathrooms is echoing within the halls of churches and universities across the country and some parts of the world, Koenemann said.

“I was recently in Norway and it’s just the norm there,” she said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a gender-specific bathroom there.”

In fact, one bathroom she encountered in Oslo — the Norwegian capital — had individual stalls labeled men, women and transgender, Koenemann said.

“It’s happening across the country,” she said. “When we’re creating spaces for the future workforce, we need to think about these things.”

The county has not yet received permission from the city of Aspen — the county building on Main Street is within the city limits — to re-sign and re-jigger the second-floor men’s bathroom, Englehart said. County officials also need to have a conversation with second-floor employees before the plan is fully approved, he said.

Englehart said he wasn’t sure why plans for a gender-neutral bathroom weren’t included in the county’s design for its new building, which opened in July 2018.

The new Aspen Police Department building — located next door to the new county building and also about a year-and-a-half old — features a gender-neutral bathroom available in the lobby area, said Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn. The city’s new office building — currently under construction across from Rio Grande Park — will feature something similar, though the specifics have not yet been worked out, said Tracy Trulove, city spokesperson.


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