The daily threat of harassment and violence because of gender variance accompanies many people to the bathroom, threatening what some say should be a basic right to all people-access to safe restrooms.
On Saturday, Feb. 22, Mills students took to the streets of San Francisco scouting out gender neutral restrooms. They say these facilities create greater safety for those whose gender is perceived by others to be variant from the “norm.” Transgender is a term many people use to express having one’s biological sex not necessarily determine or limit their gender identity or expression.
“It’s not fair, in a so-called civilized society, that gender variant people or people who are perceived as gender variant should be harassed on a daily basis,” said freshwoman Kat Stavis, a student who participated in and organized Mills students in the event.
Stavis said that restrooms have long been a classic civil rights issue, from the struggle to end racially segregated restrooms, to the call for disability access in all public restrooms. Students worked with the advocacy group, People In Search of Safe Restrooms, PISSR, to compile research to help create safe restrooms for all people, regardless of gender identification or orientation.
“From the research done, we hope to compile the most extensive listing of gender neutral restrooms that anyone in the city has ever compiled,” said Ilana Goldberg, a member of the PISSR steering committee. The group consisted of approximately 30 researchers, a handful of which were Mills students.
“I’m in favor of people being able to pee wherever they want,” said freshwoman Isabelle Luebbers. According to Luebbers, most businesses surveyed about their restrooms reacted positively, although a minority behaved defensively. “Old Navy wouldn’t even let us ask them any questions about the issue.”
People In Search of Safe Restrooms is a relatively new group. Formed six months ago, PISSR works with other queer and transgender advocacy groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign. As an effect of PISSR gender- neutral restrooms campaign and writing letters to businesses, PISSR has already begun to bring about change in San Francisco, as the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community center in San Francisco is currently considering creating its own gender- neutral restrooms.
A 2001 survey, of a largely LGBT population, by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that transgender people and non-transgender people (people who do not identify as transgender), are almost equally in favor of gender-neutral restrooms. Ninety-nine percent of transgender people supported gender- neutral restrooms, while ninety-eight percent of non-transgender people supported them, as well.
Stavis noted that separate restrooms for men and women have been proven to be anything but equal for those who do not fit into this rigid gender b. While researching, Stavis located 38 San Francisco businesses that had gender-neutral restrooms. She believes that gender- neutral bathrooms will not only help to reduce harm to transgender and gender variant people, but will help parents escort their small children of different genders to the restroom and will create more restrooms for women, cutting down the lines in women’s restrooms, and will help break down gender barriers in society as a whole. “If gender neutral bathrooms were in schools, it would teach children as innate and subconscious respect for one another,” Stavis said.