The women had two bathrooms and one utility closet with a toilet available to use. The men, on the other hand, had three stalls and two urinals.
That will change in January when Maryland lawmakers return to Annapolis for their 90-day session, thanks to House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), the first woman to hold that position in Annapolis.
Jones announced this month that she had ordered the removal of two men’s bathroom stalls to accomodate a renovated women’s restroom with an additional stall. She also arranged for a gender-neutral restroom off the House floor and a new parents’ room for nursing mothers in the Lowe House Office Building.
The changes are a show of support for gender inclusivity in a state house that, like many across the country, has long been seen as a clubby men’s bastion where women lobbyists and lawmakers endure sexist slights and come-ons.
Many see the rearranged restrooms, and the creation of a comfortable place to nurse or pump, as the latest evidence of a new era in Annapolis, with a record number of women serving in the state house and a changing of the leadership guard in both the House and Senate.
“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Jones said in an interview. “We’re trying to bring us up to the 21st century. . . . We came up with something to make it more equitable — three [stalls] for both, in addition to a unisex.”
In another step toward potty parity, a law passed earlier this year requires changing tables in men’s public restrooms in all state buildings. Jones said the men’s restroom in the House office building has been outfitted with changing tables.
It is unclear whether Maryland has moved into uncharted territory with the addition of the gender-neutral bathroom for its House members. The National Conference of State Legislatures does not track efforts to create bathroom parity in state capitol buildings.
Neighboring Virginia does not have designated gender-neutral restrooms, or a designated place for nursing, for the public or its lawmakers in the Capitol building. It also does not have a designated space for nursing in the Capitol building.
But a record number of female lawmakers arriving in Richmond in 2018 helped spur the creation of nursing rooms and restrooms with diaper-changing tables in office buildings that are part of the capitol complex.
Newly elected Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) famously nursed her 1-year-old daughter on the House floor during her swearing-in ceremony that year. When a female senator needed to nurse at the Capitol, the Senate clerk provided an office off the chamber floor to use.
Virginia Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax) says that when she first arrived in Richmond in 1982, female legislators — then a rarity — had to go down the hall to use the public restroom. Female lawmakers were shut out of socializing and dealmaking because the members’ lounge was attached to the men’s restroom.
“There had only been 21 women before me,” said Watts, now the longest-serving female House member. “I could not even go into the men’s lounge, which, of course, was where a lot of informal conversation goes on.”
The same was true on the Senate side.
Virginia Del. Danica A. Roem (D-Prince William), the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker, said the changes in Annapolis carry a simple message:“It’s just saying ‘you are welcome here.’ ”
She described the creation of more equitable facilities as “appropriate and nice” and said she hoped there will come a time when a move like this is “not a major deal.”
But it is a very big deal right now for Maryland lawmakers like Del. Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery), who gave birth to her son, Maxwell, two months ago.
“These were institutions created for and by men of wealth,” Lopez said. “We’re at a time in our culture where that is dramatically changing. Bathrooms, as mundane as they may seem, reflect your needs being honored.”
Nick Cavey, a spokesman for Maryland General Services, said a public lactation room is available upon request in the state house. There are no designated gender-neutral public bathrooms in the building.
Kelly, a former head of the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Annapolis, said when the group would privately complain in the past about the number of toilets for women, veteran lawmakers told them they “should feel grateful.” After all, she said they would point out, there used to be a time when there were no women’s restrooms off the House floor at all.
In 1971, then-Del. Pauline H. Menes (D-Prince George’s) complained that it wasn’t fair female legislators had to run across the concourse to use public restrooms.
Thomas Hunter Lowe, the House speaker at the time and later the namesake of the Lowe House Office Building, called Menes up to the rostrum in front of all the delegates and appointed her “chairman” of the women’s restroom committee, tauntingly presenting her with a fur-lined toilet seat.
It was, Menes said when she retired, the first time a woman had ever been called to the rostrum in the House chamber.
A year later, Menes formed the Women’s Legislative Caucus, comprising 11 women from the House and Senate. The female lawmakers eventually got their bathrooms — albeit not as many as the men. Today, the women’s caucus has 73 members.
“I think that it is very concrete and specific evidence that having women in power improves women’s lives,” Kelly said. “I know [Speaker Jones] has felt the indignity and inequality” of standing in line. . . . “Now we have someone with that shared experience.”
Jones, who is also the first African American leader of either legislative chamber, succeeded longtime House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who died in April. In January, the state Senate will also be under new leadership for the first time in decades, with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) stepping down as he battles cancer. Democrats, who hold a super majority in each chamber, plan to elect Sen. Bill Ferguson, 36, as his replacement.
In her first months as speaker, Jones has called for removal of a Confederate plaque at the state house and elevated several other female delegates to leadership posts.
She said it doesn’t “sit well with me” when she identifies a problem and hears in response, “That’s how it’s always been done.”
Her reaction to such statements, including about the bathroom situation, is: “It could be changed.”
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.