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Cleveland Restaurant Allegedly Threatened With Losing Liquor License Over Gender Neutral Restrooms

Good Company says they were “bullied” into gendering their restrooms by Ohio lawmakers, who now say it was all a “misunderstanding”

The gender neutral restrooms at Good Company
Good Company owner Jonah Oryszak

Last week, Cleveland restaurant Good Company found itself on the wrong end of an obscure and retrograde Ohio law that dictates a restaurant serving alcohol must offer separate restrooms clearly labeled for men and women — an increasingly fraught issue with rise of transphobic “bathroom bills” that dictate who can use what toilet. If Good Company failed to label the restrooms with and M and a W, the restaurant says, they’d be at risk of losing their liquor license.

Ohio Department of Commerce spokeswoman Kelly Whitaker told Cleveland.com on Thursday that “The liquor permit (meaning the bar/restaurant) was never in jeopardy of being ‘shut down.’” (The Ohio Liquor Control Commission didn’t respond to a request for comment by Eater by the time of publication.) But according to Good Company owner Jonah Oryszak, the inspector that arrived a little over a week ago was there to look at the restaurant’s new patio, and instead clocked them on their gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms. Ohio has a requirement that restaurants serving liquor “must have two complete restrooms (one for each sex) containing one or more water-flushed toilets, complete with seats.”

While the restroom doors at Good Company were already labeled with the type of toilet within (urinal and toilet or just toilet), the inspector informed them that it was not a clear enough indication and gender markers were still required. On Instagram the restaurant stated, “It saddens us to say that the State of Ohio has bullied us into putting genders on our restrooms at Good Company today. We fought it the best we could but ultimately they held our business hostage stating we wouldn’t be able to operate until we added an ‘M’ and a ‘W’ to the restroom doors. We even asked to see the law which says ‘restrooms available to both sexes.’”

They continued, “We will move forward operating within the law as it currently is written but rest assured that we will be fighting this behind the scenes. In the meantime we obviously will not be enforcing this — use whatever facilities you choose!”

Oryszak told Cleveland.com, “We’ve had a lot of people thank us for how we do the bathrooms, and take pictures of the bathrooms and post pictures of the bathrooms. I felt like it was a betrayal to our customers to just change it and not say anything.”

Gender-neutral bathrooms have become increasingly ubiquitous in restaurants, not only because they’re safer for trans and gender non-conforming people, but also because they cut down on wait times. The debate gendered bathrooms has gained traction since 2014, when Houston, TX passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) as a much needed update to the city’s discrimination policies. But, as German Lopez explained at Vox, conservatives introduced a referendum against HERO, fear-mongering that it “would let trans people use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity” and “once that happens...men will disguise themselves as trans women to sneak into women’s bathrooms and sexually assault women. (This has never happened as a result of states’ nondiscrimination laws...)”

Good Company has been open for less than a year and operating without a liquor license could have been disastrous. As Oryszak told Munchies, “If we can’t serve booze, we really can’t operate the way we need to. We won’t be able to pay anyone.”

On Thursday, after the story gained national attention, Ohio’s Superintendent of Liquor Control, Jim Canepa, called Oryszak to say there had been a misunderstanding and their license was not at risk. The M and W labeling on the restrooms at Good Company have already been painted over.

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