Like managers of virtually every hotel and restaurant in metro Grand Rapids, Alison Passino is trying to find common ground on the shifting sands of bathroom etiquette.
Passino, executive team lead at the Riverfront Hotel and Landing Restaurant, is fumbling around for a practical solution to new federal guidance that public schools should allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity and a federal court ruling that on the same issue.
While the hotel and restaurant aren't covered under school guidelines, the handwriting is already on the bathroom wall, Passino said.
Some local businesses are changing signs so that all bathrooms are becoming essentially unisex, while others are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"I'm having discussions with the owners about whether we should be putting the unisex man/woman symbol on all the bathrooms, which is a very simple solution," said Passino, who oversees operations at the downtown area's third largest hotel. "We are still wrestling with the answer. But probably the biggest question is: How would both women and men feel about having women enter a 'mens' bathroom where men are using the urinals?
"If a man wants to use a 'womens' bathroom, he has to go into a separate stall and shut the door for privacy, just like I do. But I am a little uncomfortable going into a 'mens' bathroom where the men are using the urinals."
Passino said she believes that the final resolution may be either that urinals will go into a stall form with a door or urnials will be done away with entirely.
While the new federal guidelines are causing some consternation in the short run, they may assist businesses with public restrooms in the long run. "Up to now, we've essentially had to have separate bathrooms," Passino said. "But if all of our bathrooms are essentially unisex, then the wait time may be cut down when we are having a seminar for 100 women, and it's time for a break."