Ohio restaurant bathroom sign kerfuffle said to be one big misunderstanding [Updated]

Photo: westernstudio (iStock)

Update, May 30, 2019: A spokesperson for the Ohio Liquor Control Commission tells The Takeout the incident with Good Company’s restroom signs was a misunderstanding: “The Division of Liquor Control Superintendent Jim Canepa actually called the permit holder this afternoon and cleared up the confusion. His permit and ability to sell liquor was never in question and his premise is in compliance.”

When asked whether gender-neutral restrooms would violate any type of statute, the commission’s spokesperson responded: “The rule simply requires two separate toilet facilities for men and women. You may reference Ohio Administrative Code 4301.” That code does appear to require separate facilities for men and women, with a few exceptions that you can read in its fine print.  

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Original story, May 30, 2019: No whimsical “WC” signs here. A Cleveland restaurant called Good Company has made headlines this week after it was told to add gender indicators to its restrooms, or risk losing its liquor license.

Cleveland 19 reports general manager Kevin Cathcart said the Ohio Liquor Control Commission informed him Good Company needed to have clearly marked restrooms for men and women. The restaurant previously had two individual restrooms that could be used by people of any gender.

“We didn’t really understand why it was an issue. We have friends and family that don’t like the classifications, don’t want the classifications of bathrooms,” Cathcart told the station.

The commission’s Liquor Permit Information And Resource Directory states the following regarding restrooms: “Must have two complete restrooms (one for each sex) containing one or more water-flushed toilets, complete with seats.” That language would seem to indicate the restrooms should be divided.

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A spokesperson with the Ohio Department Of Commerce, under which the liquor commission operates, provided the following statement to The Takeout via email: “A Division of Liquor Control compliance agent was present at Good Company in Cleveland in response to a request for expansion of their permit premises. The validity of the liquor permit was not relevant to the compliance agents visit towards the approval of the request for expansion. The request for expansion was recommended for approval that same day, and the approval letter was sent the next morning to the permit holder. The compliance agent report contained no information suggesting an issue with the bathrooms. Based on review by the Division of Liquor Control, it appears the premise complied with all rules.”

The Takeout has emailed the spokesperson with some follow-up questions to clarify the above statement and its position on gendered bathrooms, and we will update this story as needed.

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Meanwhile, the general manager of a brewpub in Cincinnati I spoke to said he was unaware of such restroom regulations. He suggested it might be one of those on-the-books rules that is selectively enforced depending on the day and the establishment. He further noted that gender-neutral restrooms aren’t just more welcoming for gender-non-conforming guests, but can sometimes be more practical for a small restaurant. If there are only two single-room bathrooms, then it makes sense for guests to use either one rather than waiting for someone to exit their designated gender’s restroom while the opposite gender’s restroom is not in use. That’s logic that anyone who’s ever had to pee can appreciate.

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Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.