For most of us, it is a clear decision which bathroom to go in: men’s or women’s. But that’s not the case for everyone. The first case to come to mind might be a person who identifies as trans* or genderqueer, but there are several other groups of people that may have trouble knowing which bathroom they should enter.
How about the mother with a preschool-aged son or the father with a daughter? How about an individual with a disabled child or spouse who needs assistance in the bathroom? How about the person taking care of an aging parent of a different gender? As the number of people needing a gender-neutral option grows, it is becoming more and more apparent that this is an issue that business owners, schools, and government agencies need to address.
One North Carolina business owner, Juli Metcalf Ghazi, has recently decided to take the initiative in establishing a gender-neutral bathroom in her Charlotte pizza parlour, Pure Pizza. She has received an overwhelmingly positive response. Ghazi placed a sign in the single-person bathroom that explains the decision, stating that “sometimes gender-specific toilets put others into uncomfortable positions.” The sign goes on to list several of the demographic groups who are left with no good option when faced with traditionally gendered bathrooms.
Ghazi’s decision came after the Charlotte city council rejected a non-discrimination ordinance that would include protections for the LGBTQ community. Prior to the council vote, many community members spoke out for and against the measure. Many of the dissenting voices cited religious reasons for opposing the ordinance.
In the broader national debate, there additional concern for survivors of sexual assault. Women who have been assaulted by men may feel uncomfortable being in a bathroom at the same time as a man. However, having a single-stall bathroom like the one at Ghazi’s pizza parlor eliminates this issue.
Since every building and community is different, the Unitarian Universalist Association has put together a guide to help people who take care of public spaces brainstorm creative solutions to making bathrooms a more inclusive space for everyone, regardless of gender identity. From simply stating that your business has adopted a gender-inclusive policy, to officially designating the bathrooms as gender-neutral, there are many options for individuals to take the initiative in their place of business.
As for public policy, the Charlotte city council will revisit the non-discrimination ordinance this year. With 2016 being an election year, it is time to start pressuring our elected officials to detail their commitment to creating safe and inclusive spaces. This is an issue we can make progress on, at an individual level and at a policy level. What will you do to move us forward?