MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont lawmakers hope a new law that requires single occupancy restrooms be marked gender neutral can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed the bill Friday. The new law, passed with support from Vermont's three major political parties, is the most recent development in a national debate over whether individuals can be required to use toilet facilities corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate.
"Vermont has a well-earned reputation for embracing equality and being inclusive," Scott said at the bill signing ceremony at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier.
The new law takes effect July 1.
Rep. Selene Colburn, a Progressive from Burlington and sponsor of the bill, said the new law would also benefit caretakers of the opposite gender who need to assist children, the elderly or the disabled.
Montpelier High School student Nathan DeGroot said it took 15 months after coming out as transgender before he felt comfortable entering a men's restroom.
"There are people in this room who purposefully do not drink more than a certain amount during the day just so they don't have to validate their entire existence every time they need to do the most natural thing in the world," DeGroot said.
He added that he sees this law as the beginning of a larger push for transgender inclusive facilities.
The sometimes contentious issue of gender neutral restrooms has been playing out across the country for some time.
Vermont, along with 18 other states and the District of Columbia, includes gender identity as a protected class in accommodation laws.
Some states that have attempted to legislate that individuals use the bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificate have faced national backlash. In 2016 North Carolina attempted to require people to use the bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificate but repealed portions of the law a year later losing business.
Last year the Trump administration withdrew an Obama era guidance that supported a transgender Virginia student suing his school district for the right to use the boys' restroom.
Dana Kaplan, executive director of Outright Vermont, said that for many transgender people bathroom labeling is a public safety issue and that the bill increases "health and access for all folks."
Arli Christian, state policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said it has been more common for cities and counties to take up this issue. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a similar bill requiring gender neutral restrooms in 2016.
The Vermont bill passed with a large majority in the House and unanimous support in the Senate. The few no votes came from lawmakers who wanted an exemption for religious buildings.
Other advocates cited Vermont's national reputation as a progressive state on LGBT issues when applauding the new law.
"Vermont is the state that often has to show the rest of the United States where to go and how to get there," said advocate Brenda Churchill.
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