The federal government is encouraging employers to provide transgender staffers with access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity—a recommendation that is the latest in a series of policy steps the Obama administration has undertaken to support transgender equality.
“Gender identity is an intrinsic part of each person’s identity and everyday life. Accordingly, authorities on gender issues counsel that it is essential for employees to be able to work in a manner consistent with how they live the rest of their daily lives, based on their gender identity,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wrote in guidance posted last week.
The guidance includes recommendations but are not law.
“Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety,” the report said.
The federal government has provided this type of restroom access for several years. In April, the Obama administration took the high profile step of designating a gender-neutral restroom in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building which is near the White House and home to many staff offices and meetings.
"The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, which is in keeping with the administration's existing legal guidance on this issue," White House spokesman Jeff Tiller told NBC News earlier this year.
That same month, an executive order went into effect prohibiting companies that contract with the federal government from discriminating against transgender and gay employees.
In June, President Barack Obama applauded Caitlyn Jenner’s public transition to life as a woman.
The former Bruce Jenner went public with her new name — Caitlyn — and a cover shoot for Vanity Fair earlier that week. She quickly eclipsed the Twitter record previously held by President Barack Obama by reaching 1 million followers in 4 hours and 3 minutes — her feed currently has more than 2 million followers.
Public acceptance of transgender equality has increased as well.
A majority of Americans believe that the high-profile transition of Caitlyn Jenner will help society become more accepting of transgender people, an NBC News survey found. Two-thirds of those questioned believe there will be positive change: Twenty percent of respondents in the survey, which was conducted online by SurveyMonkey from June 3-5, said that Jenner's transition would help "a lot," while 46 percent said it will help "a little."
Still, some state legislatures, local governments, schools and businesses across the nation have wrestled with how to best provide restroom access and the broader issue of accepting transgender equality with mixed results.
In Florida, lawmakers floated a controversial "Single Sex Public Facilities" bill in the Republican-dominated House that would have prohibited a transsexual individual "knowingly and willfully" entering a single-sex bathroom of the other sex. A handful of states, including Kentucky, debated failed measures that would have requires children to use bathrooms matching their assigned gender at birth.
Politicians have also weighed in on the issue.
Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor seeking the GOP presidential nominee, told a radio host recently that he stood by comments he made about transgender restroom use during a speech at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville in February.
“Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” Huckabee reportedly said during the February speech. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today’.”
Advocates in the transgender community strongly oppose such sentiments and legislation impacting restroom use, calling the laws discriminatory. Implementing gender-neutral bathroom facilities in workplaces and public buildings has been a priority for transgender rights advocates.
"It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender non-conforming people," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said in April when the Obama administration unveiled gender neutral restrooms, "at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense."