Here’s a question most of us haven’t pondered before: What’s a dad to do if he’s out and about with his baby who needs a new diaper and there’s no changing table in the men’s restroom? As the dynamics of the “modern family” (and no, I don’t mean families with iPhones!) evolve, lawmakers are considering two bills with similar intentions mandating businesses to grant men equal access to changing tables.
Senate bills 1358 and 1350, aka “the Diaper Mandate,” have cleared the California Senate and are awaiting consideration in the Assembly, which could come next month. One bill, sponsored by Sen. Lois Walk (D), would require that any building renovation done at a cost of more than $50,000 must include a baby-changing station installation. Building inspectors would enforce the new rules under their normal inspection process and could fine businesses that did not comply.
The second bill, sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D), would require that facilities with current changing tables make the tables accessible to all genders. This means having a changing table in a men’s restroom if there is one in a women’s, or having a family restroom. Sen. Mark Wyland (R) was one of two lawmakers in the Senate committee who voted against the bill. His policy consultant told reporters that it’s uncertain what the bill would cost businesses.
Diaper-changing tables are currently not required by state or federal law in any restroom. But many family-friendly businesses provide them as a courtesy and convenience, most commonly in the women’s restroom.
Lara said he thought of introducing such a bill after receiving calls from same-sex couples who wanted changing tables in men’s restrooms. But after research into the issue, he realized that the population affected by the issue is much broader than just the LGBT community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 2.5 million single fathers in the United States raising their children full-time. In addition to single fathers, according to the Centers for Disease Control, nine out of 10 dads who live with their children help take care of them, but access to changing tables in public places doesn’t reflect this notion. This means that men who are out with their kids have to change their babies in the car, on the bathroom counter or even on the bathroom floor. Without equal access to diaper-changing stations, some have taken to relying on station-locator sites like Dads Who Change Diapers (www.dadswhochangediapers.com). The website lists more than 3,000 facilities nationwide that are family-friendly for changing diapers, only accessible to women or have no changing table. The next step for the website is to build a Foursquare-like mobile app that allows users to check into locations and indicate whether or not changing tables are available.
Wayne Hamilton, a Philadelphia stay-at-home dad, is a new father. Prior to the birth of his daughter, Julia, he never paid attention to whether a restaurant had a changing table in the men’s restroom or even a family restroom. However, soon after Julia came into his and his partner Mike’s life, their naiveté changed after one of their first outings to Pizzeria Stella. When Julia needed to be changed, they were informed that there was only a changing station in the women’s restroom. The staff handled the situation wonderfully, blocking off the restroom so Hamilton could change Julia, but corporate headquarters wasn’t so accommodating. Hamilton never received a response to his formal request to Starr Group to add changing stations in the Starr Group restaurants. Wayne said he continues to patronize Starr Group restaurants, but it’s never a first choice when they are out with the baby — which is often, since they live, work and play in the city.
A second experience prompted Hamilton to write another restaurant’s corporate headquarters. While dining at Redstone American Grill, he realized there was no changing table. Again, the staff handled it admirably but, feeling frustrated, uncomfortable and mostly annoyed, Hamilton wrote a letter to the COO of Redstone later that evening. By the next day, Mr. Michael O’Leary had not just responded but said he would be installing a changing station in the men’s bathroom immediately. The quick response and accommodation prompted Hamilton to spread the word about Redstone on Facebook and across other social media, and the goodwill associated with the gesture means his family will surely be eating again at Redstone American Grill whenever they are in New Jersey visiting “Mom-Mom”!
Families are now headed by two dads, two moms, mom and dads, single parents and extended caretakers. This small, inexpensive change goes a long way in sending a signal that a company is open for business to all families. The California “Diaper Mandate” acknowledges that traditional gender roles, with women as the primary caregiver for children, are changing and, simultaneously, there is a growing number of same-sex households with children. The California bills, and those to follow, are a sign of progress, a victory for gay fathers and also a moment of empowerment for mothers everywhere.