Gender-Neutral Bathroom Committee updates
September 11, 2023
You will have received this afternoon an email from our President, Michelle Fineblum, on the bathroom project. She has asked us to assist the Board in sharing updates on the project and being points of contact for you. We hope that this email will help to answer questions about the bathroom project, why Beth El is doing all this, and about questions that have been raised. Please contact any of us if you have questions or would like to discuss.
To recap, what changes is Beth El making?
- We’re building a new ADA-compliant single-occupancy bathroom
- We’re converting our current bathrooms to all-gender
- We’re replacing the stalls in the current bathrooms so they are more private
When are the changes happening?
- The stall replacements are underway. The men’s room is virtually done.
- We plan to start work on the new bathroom after the High Holidays.
- For Sunday morning educational programs, the multi-stall bathrooms are signed temporarily as all-gender.
- When the new bathroom is available (later this fall), we will shift the multi-stall bathrooms to all-gender on a full-time basis.
Why is Beth El changing the bathrooms?
- Beth El has congregants, family members, and guests who don’t have a place to take care of their basic physical needs in our building. The changes honor our teachings and our commitment to be open and inclusive to all, as expressed on our website.
- Our community includes people, including children in the education program, who identify as trans or non-binary.
- We have lost members because they couldn’t go to the bathroom in our building, and didn’t feel welcomed.
- We have grown more aware of the risk factors that face young people who are trans and non-binary. They are far more likely to face sexual harassment, assault and bullying than their peers, and these incidents often happen in bathrooms which are gendered.
- Our community has called on the leadership to adapt our built environment so that it reflects our bedrock values of caring for every person who enters our building and welcoming them with dignity.
- The changes reflect our ever-changing community – both present and future. We are updating our building to continue to be a welcoming place. Just changing signs on the existing bathroom would not meet our continuing and future needs.
The new single-occupancy bathroom will be all-gender, so why do we also need to convert the current bathrooms to all-gender?
- Beth El members agree on the need to cultivate a culture of gender inclusivity. We have to do more than just say we’re inclusive. These changes are shifting our access standard for our main bathrooms from gendered exclusion to true bathroom access for all.
- This is a matter of equality for our nonbinary members and visitors. If we left gendered signing on the current bathroom, it would be saying that everyone who identifies as either male or female has the option of two bathrooms, but nonbinary folks have only one option. They must go down the hall. It is separate and not equal. When all bathrooms are available to all people, there is no way that someone can be thought to be in the wrong place.
- If someone is in the process of transitioning and is not yet ready to be out to the community, they can worry about being outed if they use the single-occupancy bathroom all of the time. It is unethical to force someone to be out.
How did the Board get to this decision? Some congregants feel the Board made decisions without sufficient congregant input, that the Board has not been listening to congregants, and simply imposing its views.
- This issue has had extensive input and discussion over the past two years and especially this summer.
- Yet, the Board sees the need for it, and the entire community, to listen even more fully to everyone. The Board has asked us to assist with this holy task.
- The Board believes the Beth El community is united in wanting to offer safety and comfort to our trans and non-binary members and guests at a time when, in many places in our country, their very existence is being threatened.
- In its solemn leadership role, the Board looked to Beth El’s guiding principles of inclusion and equity. Our fellow members taught the Board that it is important to provide spaces that fully embrace our trans and non-binary members and guests (hachnasat orchaim), while also giving privacy to anyone who wants it for any reason at all, including those who fear harassment or violence in a multi-stall bathroom (kavod ha-briyot).
- The Board heard the many congregant voices at this summer’s meetings and privately on whether to convert the multi-stall bathrooms to all-gender status temporarily or permanently. In its June vote, the Board elected both to make the change permanent and to affirm its April 2022 decision to build the new single- occupancy bathroom as the only ways together to truly establish universal bathroom access for all and honor Beth El’s commitments to inclusion and equity.
Some congregants have proposed signs for the women’s room that it will be for everyone except for cisgender men. Would this honor our commitments both to inclusivity and to minimize the potential for harassment?
- No. Having signage that excludes certain people would continue conditioning bathroom access based on certain characteristics. It also can lead to confusion. Those needing to go would have to figure out first if they’re allowed to enter a particular room. And, misunderstandings and confusion by others already in that room as to whether the person entering meets the criteria.
- Sometimes trans women still outwardly appear like cisgender men, as do some nonbinary people. Therefore, a sign intended to exclude cisgender men (on what’s now the women’s room) could be interpreted also to exclude a person who looks like a cisgender man.
- We do not want to unintentionally lead to circumstances where people can judge if someone else looks masculine enough or feminine enough to use a certain bathroom. It creates a situation where someone might think they can ask someone to leave the bathroom. This can be unintentional, yet very hurtful and harmful to members of our community and visitors.
- Beth El is respecting a universal need by making all parts of our building, including the restrooms, as welcoming places for all who walk in our doors.
Some congregants are concerned about women losing the current safety, privacy and comfort they have found in a women’s bathroom.
- These concerns are legitimate and honestly felt. We are taking several steps to address these concerns. This is an issue for us all. Contact us or any Board member with your suggestions.
- Sexual harassment of women is a reality in our broader society. The safety of everyone who steps foot in Beth El remains of the utmost importance. Any type of harassment or bullying, including sexual harassment, is never tolerated anywhere in the building. We urge anyone who experiences such treatment at Beth El to report it to the Rabbi, Cantor, or Beth El’s VP of HR and it will be dealt with promptly. These are our community’s bathrooms – we all have a responsibility to make it clear to our families and our guests that safety must be upheld in bathrooms and everywhere at Beth El.
- The new stalls in the multi-stall bathrooms will significantly enhance privacy by reducing visibility below and above, as well as at the door jambs. These will be a big improvement over the current stalls.
Some congregants worry there will be a long line to use the single-occupancy bathroom by those uncomfortable with using the all-gender multi-stall bathrooms.
- It’s possible, though it’s also fair to note the changes will expand the bathroom stalls available to all.
- At our present membership level, the most likely times where this might occur would be during large events or the High Holidays next year.
- If this does prove to be a problem, Beth El can explore options, including asking the Rabbi to continue to make his single-occupancy bathroom available, especially during peak times.
Will we create confusion for guests on which bathroom they can use? Will it be clear which bathroom has a urinal?
- Great (and important) questions. The short answers are:
- Guests will be welcome to use any bathroom.
- The multi-stall bathroom on the right will have a sign that indicates that it has a urinal inside.
- In welcoming our visiting family members and guests, all of us will be able to clarify the set-up and point out the new single-occupancy ADA-compliant bathroom for those who want it.
Let’s face it. Some guys are not always precise.
- Clean bathrooms and good hygiene are important whether we’re at home or anywhere else. Moving to all-gendered bathrooms makes this important at Beth El as well. We can all message this to our families and guests. As always, please report dirty bathrooms to staff or a board member.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Please reach out to any of us or to a Board member.
Carrie Fuchs, Co-Chair, Inclusion Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sarah Green Vaswani, Co-VP of Youth and Family Education (email@example.com)
John Harper, VP Finance (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gail Kazin, Member of the GNBC (email@example.com)
Lizza Sandoe, Past Board Member, Member of the GNBC (firstname.lastname@example.org)
July 7, 2023
At our special congregational meeting on June 20, we heard from many participants that our members, their families, and prospective members must all be able to tend to their basic personal needs in dignity, privacy and safety.
Beth El is a community that is made up of people with a variety of needs. We feel a profound commitment to maintaining a holy environment that respects and supports all of these needs as best we can. As we have learned, our existing bathroom configuration is not sufficient to meet these needs.
To thrive and to grow as a congregation, the board has heard clearly that we need to strive to welcome all who walk through our doors with an equal sense of inclusion. After an extended period of learning and deliberation, the board has voted to designate all of the bathrooms at Beth El (both multi-stall and our forthcoming single-occupancy room) as all-gender. This move expresses our bedrock commitment to living our stated Jewish values of respectfully honoring all people as being made in the Divine image.
The board approved conversion of the current men’s and women’s rooms to all-gender bathrooms and the construction of a new single-occupancy bathroom. This project includes:
- Enhancing privacy of the current bathrooms by replacing the current stall doors and dividing panels with new ones which reach closer to the floor and ceiling, and which close the current visual gap alongside the doors. The stall doors will continue to have locks.
- Enclosing the urinal
- A new single-occupancy, all gender, ADA-compliant bathroom adjacent to the Rabbi’s office (where the Cantor’s office currently is located), and construct a new Cantor’s office and project room.
- A plan for financing this construction work, including 50% from existing Beth El funds and 50% from a dedicated fund-raising campaign.
The goal is to complete the conversion of the current bathrooms prior to the High Holidays and to create the new bathroom by the early fall. Rabbi Josh will continue to make the bathroom in his office available during services and programs.
What’s next? The Congregation needs to vote to approve these capital expenditures. Accordingly, we will hold a special congregational meeting at 4:00 PM on Sunday, July 23 so that the congregation can approve these construction projects. Please do your best to attend this meeting by Zoom or in person. Your voice is important!
These projects can only start after we have all of the related funds in place. We have made good progress on the fundraising campaign, but we need your help to reach our fundraising goal so that we can begin work! Please contribute here (selecting “All Gender Bathroom Fund”) or contact our VP/Finance, John Harper.
This decision has been a long time coming and reflects the efforts of so many people:
- The ad hoc Bathroom Committee researched options, ran congregational focus groups, and presented their findings to the board. Many, many congregants and staff provided input to this process.
- The Building Committee, which assessed different options, worked with an architect and obtained bids from contractors for constructing a single-occupancy, all-gender, fully ADA-compliant bathroom in the classroom wing.
- Attendees at this year’s Annual Meeting and the June 20 congregational meeting who voiced the need for all-gender bathrooms ASAP.
- Multiple discussions at many board meetings.
We, and the entire board are profoundly grateful for everyone’s work and contribution of the past two years. We’re moved by the openness, respect and compassion demonstrated by everyone at the meeting on June 20, and in the many conversations and emails since then. We look forward to maintaining this same sense of care and open-hearted kindness as we continue in this process together. Please let any of us, or anyone on the board know if you have any questions in the interim. We’d be very happy to set up time to speak with you.
— Michelle Feinblum
President, Beth El Board of Directors
June 14, 2023
At our recent annual meeting, the status of the creation of an all gender/fully accessible bathroom was presented to the congregation. The immediate and heartfelt feedback during the meeting (both in the Sanctuary and on Zoom) was loud and clear. We heard the deep desire shared by so many in our community to ensure that all who come to our building – both children and adults – have a space to care for their most personal needs in comfort and safety.
We truly regret that the creation of this bathroom has taken so long. This ongoing process remains a high priority for all of us. Our leadership is aware that Beth El’s progressive and inclusive philosophy requires a practical and timely solution. We are committed to acting on this need as fully as we can. And where we can act, we should act, and must act.
We understand that Beth El needs to make a gender-neutral bathroom available as soon as possible. We heard many of you explain that it’s important for you and your children that we craft a temporary solution while progress on the permanent solution is proceeding. We all need to keep an open heart and an open mind when it comes to issues of this importance.
On that point, we note that before the annual meeting, Rabbi Josh had been in touch with Rabbi Micah from Keshet to discuss possible temporary solutions. He has shared those resources with us. Additionally, our rabbi has been making the bathroom in his office available to those who need it during Shabbat and festival services.
So, what is our next step? A number of good ideas were mentioned during the annual meeting and it was clear that there was more to be shared. Our next move is to join together and have a congregational conversation on June 20, 2023 to:
- hear an expanded report from Jerry on the project thus far
- ask questions that weren’t able to be expressed at the annual meeting
- offer thoughts and reflections on the process, especially around interim measures to ensure that the needs of all are met in our building in comfort and safety
If you cannot attend the meeting, you may send email to Jerry Kazin
with questions and input.
Please note that this conversation will not address funding for the all gender/fully accessible bathroom in the classroom wing. We are working separately on a financial plan for that project. If you are interested in contributing to that project or have questions, please email John Harper
We deeply appreciate all those who shared words and wished to offer their insights during the annual meeting. We are committed to making Beth El a comfortable and safe place for all. We’re on the road – please lend your strength to this ongoing process.
Jerry Kazin, VP Tzibur
Michelle Fineblum, President
November 1, 2022
After last year’s work by the Gender Neutral Bathroom Committee to educate the congregation on the need for a gender neutral bathroom, there was overwhelming consensus to create this space within our building. This desire was confirmed at last year’s annual meeting.
In parallel with this committee’s work, the Beautification Committee performed a study to determine the possible locations for a Gender Neutral/Handicapped Accessible bathroom to be located in the temple. Given the plumbing in the building, two possible options were examined:
- Create the new bathroom somewhere in the footprint of the current men’s and women’s bathrooms
- Convert the current cantor’s office into the GN/HA bathroom
Due to multiple factors including plumbing codes and regulations, option 1 is not a choice. Therefore option 2 is being pursued.
Constructing the new bathroom in the location of the current cantor’s office means that another location for the cantor’s office must be found. After looking around the building for a candidate location, the choice became apparent: keep the office in the classroom wing. And the best place in the classroom wing is right next to the current office’s location.
Subsequent to the annual meeting, a team composed of members of the Gender Neutral Bathroom Committee, the Beautification Committee, the school, and Tefilah was put together and tasked by the Board of Directors to continue the effort to create the new bathroom and to provide regular updates to the congregation. At its recent meeting, this team concluded that to best meet the need for a suitable cantor’s office along with the future needs of our religious school we need to reconfigure classroom five. Our next step is to consult with an architect and the committee on how best to divide the current Classroom 5 space into a new office and an educational space suited for use as a small classroom, or a school resource room.
Architectural drawings are now being created. Within the next month, these drawings will be reviewed with the aforementioned team and their input will be factored in. We will then go out for bids on the construction. Once we have the bids in hand, we will decide upon the builder and determine how best to finance the construction. The goal is to have the work done next summer in time for the 2023 High Holidays.
If you have any questions, please contact Jerry Kazin.