The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Should there be diaper-changing stations in men’s bathrooms? With proposed new law, D.C. wades into national debate.

Jeremy León with his daughter Naya. León and his husband, Bryan, say it’s been difficult changing their daughter because few businesses have changing tables in the men’s bathroom. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Having a kid changed a lot of things — including how Jeremy León enters restaurants.

Today, when he steps through the door with 3-year-old daughter Naya, Jeremy León immediately switches to “my logical mind.” He scans the scene, locates the restroom and sets out to answer the all-important question: Will there be a diaper-changing table in the men’s bathroom?

More often than not in the D.C. area, the answer is no, leaving León — a stay-at-home dad who is married to a man — at a loss.

“It was very clear from the beginning that it was the expectation that men’s rooms would not have them,” León, 40, said in an interview in his North Bethesda apartment last month. “Rather than engaging in a lot of activist challenging, I really just crossed places off my list — nope, not going to go there.”

A few years ago, Maryland father Josh Singer came up with a similar solution: He started an spreadsheet to track which venues offered changing tables for men and avoided places that didn’t. Interest grew among parents, and Singer, 37, wound up converting his list into a full-blown website in 2013. At last count, of 400 D.C.-area restaurants evaluated on Singer’s site, just 20 percent had changing tables in the men’s room.

Now, the District may join New York and California in passing a law that makes bathroom changing tables equally available to fathers.

D.C. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) has introduced a bill that requires government buildings and businesses — including restaurants — to ensure changing tables are available to men and women. Nadeau said in an interview that the legislation is meant to make life easier for all families.

“Having a changing table in a women’s room but not a men’s room puts the burden on the female partner in the relationship — and for a same-sex male couple, it’s just not fair,” Nadeau said. “We introduced this bill during Pride Month and that wasn’t by accident.”

The law, called the Equal Access to Changing Tables Amendment Act of 2019, has two components. First, it requires that publicly accessible government buildings offer diaper-changing accommodations for individuals of all genders. Second, it mandates that any newly constructed D.C. business or any business undertaking renovations costing at least $10,000 must do the same.

As if we don’t exist’: Frustrated father pleads for more changing tables in men’s restrooms

Nadeau is hopeful that the bill, which she views as a “no-brainer,” will become law with little controversy after a hearing in the fall. The legislation already has majority support from the 13-member council: Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Robert C. White Jr. (D- At Large) introduced the bill, while six other council members co-sponsored it.

Still, it may face opposition from local entrepreneurs.

Mark Lee, the coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, said he has already heard complaints from small businesses — both bars and restaurants — about Nadeau’s bill. Establishments that do not often serve families with young children are unwilling to face the burden and expense of installing unnecessary changing tables, Lee said. He said this is especially true for nightlife-focused venues.

In general, Lee said, many D.C. businesses prefer to meet customers’ demands as they arise, rather than obey top-down legislative orders.

“The last thing we need is another layer of operational requirement and bureaucratic enforcement,” Lee said.

Asked about Lee’s criticisms, Nadeau said she hopes every business in the District would want to be “family friendly.” She also noted that the bill only affects businesses already undertaking construction work.

Finally, she pointed to the cost of a changing table on Amazon: The price ranges from about $150 to higher-end options of $400 or more.

“We’re not asking anyone to tie themselves into knots to do this,” Nadeau said. “All that I’m trying to do here is make the District a better place to be a parent.”

'It's just one more thing'

As the debate plays out over the next few months, D.C.-area fathers must continue their quest for makeshift solutions.

These vary. Some recalled changing their child in the women’s room as a willing waiter watched the door. Others remembered doing it on their knees beneath the table while casting surreptitious glances at servers. Or on two chairs shoved together in a dark corner. Or on the stroller. In the car. On a clean patch of grass.

By far the worst option, almost every dad agreed: the floor of the men’s bathroom.

“The floors of public men’s rooms are just disgusting,” said Shamik Trivedi, 36, who lives in Northwest Washington with his wife, Adrienne Trivedi, and 2-year-old daughter Celine. “There’s just always pee. Taking her in there, it’s almost like — it feels like it’s child abuse.”

The Trivedis, both full-time attorneys, try to divide parenting responsibilities down the middle. That goes for putting Celine to sleep, feeding her, picking her up from school and, yes, changing her diaper in the restroom. Both see the half-and-half split as a mandatory facet of married life in the 21st century.

Adapting to parenthood was already stressful, and the absence of changing tables in public men’s rooms soon made it more so. Adrienne Trivedi, 35, said it became the “default” that she would change her daughter’s diaper in restaurants, she said.

“If the dads don’t have as many opportunities to care-give — even something so small as going to change them in a restaurant — the mom feels like she’s losing more, like she has suffered more from the start of a family,” Trivedi said. “It’s just one more thing.”

Concerns such as these prompted local restaurant chain Silver Diner, which serves farm-to-table American fare in more than a dozen around the D.C. area, to include changing tables in both men’s and women’s restrooms from its founding roughly 30 years ago. Mark Russell, the vice president of real estate and development for Silver Diner, said he thinks every local eatery that aspires to be “family friendly” should follow suit.

“Silver Diner has always intended to be an egalitarian place for everybody,” Russell said. “It’s relatively simple to do this — changing stations are not prohibitively expensive — and it’s much more convenient for those of our guests who have the need.”

For the Leóns, it can go beyond convenience.

Though Jeremy León said he often drew strange looks when forced to change Naya’s diaper in the women’s restroom — or “anywhere, really” — he tried to keep his daughter unaware.

León did his job so well that his daughter still thinks it’s natural for waiters to watch the door while people use the bathroom at restaurants, he said.

But, on a recent evening, León decided it was time to broach the issue. As he and his husband, Bryan León, sat on either side of Naya and fed her a pre-dinner snack of mango slices, Jeremy León asked whether it was helpful when he accompanied her into the bathroom in public. (Naya is potty training, so if León isn’t changing a diaper, he has to help his daughter reach the toilet.)

Naya said it was.

León nodded and said the setup of public bathrooms can sometimes make it difficult for him or “Daddah” (her name for Bryan León) to take care of her.

She was having none of it.

“That would be a bad thing,” Naya said, shaking her head. “I need you. I cannot get up.”

The idea of the toilet spurred a giggle. Then she snatched a bite of mango from Bryan León’s waiting fork.