Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Introduction:

Some people often feel uncomfortable when using segregated restrooms. Female/male sex-segregated bathrooms are not accessible spaces that everyone can use. Many people are subject to harassment, intimidation, legal charges, and violence on an every day basis.

Transgender, genderqueer, and/or gender non-conforming people are particularly affected by bathroom segregation because of the visible gender differences that may not correlate with cultural gender norms. Even in cities, towns, and college campuses that are generally considered “liberal” places where it is “easier” to be gender non-conforming, many people are still harassed in both women’s and men’s rooms. [1]

Many non-transgender and gender conforming people also experience difficulty and inconvenience in sex-segregated bathrooms. Parents with differently-gendered children are not able to accompany them in gender-segregated bathrooms (a mother with her son or a father with his daughter). Disabled people with differently gendered attendants or family members are not able to bring them into gender-specific, multi-stall bathrooms.

“Gender-neutral” bathrooms are typically a single-stall, lockable bathroom available to people of all genders and sexes. Gender-neutral bathrooms provide a safe, private facility for transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people, families with children, and people with disabilities who may need assistance. Single-stall restrooms also more easily meet the accessibility regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).[2]

Gender-Neutral Bathrooms on Campus:

People have begun working towards gaining equal accessibility to bathrooms on many college campuses. At some colleges students are advocating for the creation of gender-neutral restrooms in the buildings most frequented by students, faculty, and staff.

In residence halls students have created various gender-neutral systems for bathrooms and other gendered spaces depending on what makes its particular residents comfortable.

It is also important to note that many people are questioning their sexuality and gender identity earlier in life and coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender at younger ages.  A University should realize that many potential students and faculty are looking for a campus which is proactively supportive of queer concerns. Transgender and allied people in particular want to know how their needs will be met in terms of comfortable bathroom options because it is a real concern in many day-to-day lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the problems created by not having gender neutral bathrooms?

Gender specific bathrooms are potentially unsafe and intimidating places for a variety of people. People with disabilities who need the assistance of an attendant of a different gender are unable to access facilities. Families with children report difficulty taking their different-sex children (such as mothers with sons, fathers with daughters) into bathrooms.

The most significant problem that arises in a gendered space is one of intimidation.  When that gendered space is one like a restroom, a place that everyone should be able to go without incident and without feeling intimidated, addressing this problem becomes increasingly significant.

Many people have had the experience of being threatened, harassed, assaulted, or questioned/charged by authorities in sex-segregated bathrooms. Members of the transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming community face specific concerns and threats to safety depending on how they are read in certain situations. If a woman in a women’s-only restroom is assumed to be a man, there may be real threats to her comfort and even safety.  For example, one woman had security called on her while she was in the women’s restroom of her workplace because a client thought she was “a man in a women’s bathroom.” Often, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people will go far out of their way to gain access to bathrooms that are more private or comfortable.

Some people may feel threatened in single-sex bathrooms based on their presumed sexual orientation rather than gender identity. Students have faced gay-baiting comments in university’s gender specific bathrooms. Regardless of whether those making the comments intended to act on the threats made, people were made uncomfortable and felt unsafe.

Who is allowed to use a gender neutral bathroom?

Everyone! Gender-neutral bathrooms create private, individual spaces that are accessible to all people.

Will there still be gender specific bathrooms?

Yes. There are people who want or need to use gender specific bathrooms. The important thing is that there are equally accessible options for everyone.

Are gender neutral bathrooms less private?

Gender-neutral bathrooms are just as private as gender specific bathrooms. Frequently they are more private.

Don’t men make bathrooms messy?

Everyone has the ability to be clean or messy regardless of what gender or sex they are. In fact, the general trend is that gender neutral bathrooms are cleaner than gender specific bathrooms, perhaps because people are more conscious of their cleanliness in shared spaces.

If I use a gender neutral bathroom will people with think/know I am transgender?

In general, people pay very little attention to what other people are doing. If someone does notice a person enter a gender-neutral bathroom, what they are most likely to assume that person is using the bathroom!

Do gender neutral bathrooms make people less safe?

No. The current gender specific situation is not safe for many transgender and non-transgender people. The reality is that gender specific bathrooms do not prevent sexual assault, and if anything, provides an illusion of safety that is not true. Women’s bathrooms do not provide any physical barrier to potential predators, who can just as easily walk through an unlocked door that reads “women” as any other unlocked door.

Multiple person gender neutral bathrooms could actually provide more safety, if carefully constructed, since they would be more public spaces and make it less likely that a woman would be alone. Places with multiple person gender neutral bathrooms report no complaints, no harassment, and no violence. [3] Multiple person gender neutral bathrooms can be constructed for maximum safety (for example single-user bathrooms with locking stall doors that go from floor to ceiling without gaps). Safety concerns are irrelevant for single person gender neutral bathrooms because they are made to be accessible to only one person at a time.

Is converting gender neutral bathrooms expensive?

Converting gender neutral bathroom takes little to no funding. Building public single-occupancy bathrooms is ideal, but converting an existing multi-stall bathroom to gender-neutral is an excellent, and easy, intermediate step.

Will using gender neutral bathrooms make people uncomfortable?

It is true that for people who are used to using gender specific bathrooms, using gender neutral bathrooms may feel strange or uncomfortable. Often times, social change that increases access for an excluded group and eliminated discrimination requires a reform of social practices that can make people who have not been negatively affected by the existing arrangements uncomfortable. However, discomfort or modesty, when compared with the inability to engage in basic necessary biological functions at work, school, and in public spaces, cannot be prioritized. As we make changes to increase access and reduce discrimination, we must all commit to adjusting to those changes. Personal preference never overrides discrimination.

Does using a gender neutral bathroom mean men and women will have to use the bathroom or shower together?

No. Gender neutral bathrooms create a third option for people who are comfortable with sharing spaces with people who may not be the same sex and gender as themselves. A gender-neutral bathroom does not put any two people right beside each other. Just like other bathrooms, gender-neutral bathrooms maintain privacy.

Additional Resources:


Sources

Compiled and Edited by JAC Stringer, (2009), Heartland Trans* Wellness Group

[1] Transgender Law Center, “Peeing in Peace: A Resource Guide for Transgender Activists and Allies” http://www.transgenderlawcenter.org/pdf/PIP%20Resource%20Guide.pdf

[2] University of Chicago QueerAction,  “Gender-Neutral Bathrooms Campaign: A QueerSafeCampus Initiative” Developed by Brett Genny Beemyn, Director, The Stonewall Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, brettgenny@stuaf.umass.edu http://queeraction.uchicago.edu/statement.html

[3] Transgender Law Center Publications: Additional Hesitations. http://transgenderlawcenter.org/trans/pdfs/SBAC%20Fact%20Sheet-ons%20handout.pdf

Transgender Law Center Publications: Safe Bathrooms. http://www.transgenderlawcenter.org/publications.html#bathrooms

Toilet Training: Companion Guide for Activists and Educators, “Talking Points about Accessible Bathrooms” http://srlp.org/files/documents/toolkit/talking_points_bathroom.pdf