Public Restrooms

Get up-to-date news about our campaign to make sure trans people can safely access appropriate public restrooms by reading our blog with the tag “bathroom safety”!

Background & Context

All over the world, anti-trans bigots try to convince the public that trans people are somehow a “threat” in public bathrooms. We’ve seen it in New Hampshire, in Gainesville, Fl and close to home in Montgomery County, Md: Our opponents stereotype trans people as sexual predators and try to use “bathroom panic” to defeat legislation that would protect our ability to gain employment and live safe lives.

In Massachusetts, conservative opponents of  a bill that would add gender identity and expression to the human rights law there began calling the legislation “the bathroom bill.” These anti-trans activists hoped to distract voters from the real issues at hand – fighting transphobic discrimination – by implying that trans women are shady deceivers who will somehow exploit the law in order to enter women’s bathroom and assault other women.

This line of reasoning is completely illogical. We’re already using public bathrooms, and have been since we have existed. There have never been any documented problems caused by us. While there are may be some trans individuals with histories of committing sexual assault, there are far more cisgender (non-trans) people who are sexual predators and this is never used as a reason to argue that cisgender people should be banned from bathrooms of a particular gender.

The idea that trans people are more likely to commit such crimes is only a harmful, bigoted stereotype. Further, even if trans people are allowed to use the bathroom that is consistent with our gender identity, there are already laws against sexual assault. Allowing us to pee in peace won’t change that, or make it easier for anyone to break those existing laws.

In reality, we know that trans people are far more at risk than a threat. We are constantly attacked, threatened, thrown out and even arrested just for trying to pee. We’ve spoken to trans individuals that have nearly lost their jobs, been ejected from public restaurants, forced to drop out of school and harassed by police officers, all for trying to exercise their legal right to use the bathroom where they feel the safest and most comfortable.

Sometimes trans people have to “hold it” because they are too afraid to even try to use a restroom. The risk of being attacked in a bathroom is even greater for trans people who are in the middle of transition, those who choose not  to medically transition and low-income trans people who cannot afford to do so. In many cases,  some trans people – such as those who are genderqueer or do not live as either male or female – simply have nowhere to go at all.

In fact, 70% of respondents to a citywide survey for trans people in DC indicated that they had experienced problems accessing gender segregated bathrooms, ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault. Contrary to the hateful opinions of some anti-trans activists, ensuring that trans and gender nonconforming people are able to safely access appropriate facilities would actually reduce violence in restrooms.

History of Our Campaign

In the District, thanks to the regulations of the Human Rights Act we helped win, we have the right to use the gender-segregated public multi-occupancy bathroom consistent with our gender identity, regardless of our assigned sex (real or perceived) or gender expression. This means, for example, that a trans woman has the legal right to use a women’s restroom anywhere in the District. If you’ve been harassed or denied access, tell us!

Sadly, there are still many ignorant people in the world. Even though we legally have the right to use the bathroom, there is still a chance that we may be attacked or harassed while trying to use one. This is why the law additionally specifies that all existing single-stall restrooms (bathrooms designed for use by one person at a time, even if it’s next to another bathroom) in any public space, like a restaurant, bar or cafe, should be labeled gender neutral.

Thus, if a bathroom has only one toilet and a locking door, the sign should simply read “restroom” or any other ungendered marker. It cannot read “men” or “women”, “male” or “female” etc. That way, we are assured access and can pee in peace without having to worry whether someone is going to question us (or even assault or arrest us) for using the “wrong” one. This also increases options for genderqueer people and others who do not identify as strictly male or female.

Unfortunately, very few businesses in DC are complying or even aware of this rule. We’re compiling a list of non-compliant businesses so that we can work with the Office of Human Rights to enforce this regulation. Help us! It’s easy: Whenever you go out in any public space to grab a bite to eat or get a drink, check to see if their single stall bathrooms are labeled appropriately. If not, report the name and address of the establishment and the date you were there! [UPDATE] Submit to the Office of Human Rights using this web form or tweet that info (ideally with a photo) with the hashtag #safebathroomsDC. This is an incredibly simple way to have a big impact and help us make DC a safer place for all people, especially trans and gender nonconforming people who are at risk of violence and harassment.

The OHR will then send all the businesses letters informing them of the Human Rights Act and what they need to do in order to be compliant.  The businesses will have 60 days to change their signs, at which point we will check back.  There will be no repercussions for the business unless they refuse to comply after that time. Hopefully all the businesses will have become compliant, however, if they are not, we will report them to the OHR so that they can initiate a discrimination complaint.

Note that we aren’t trying to get rid of gendered bathrooms, or make anyone build new facilities. We’re merely trying to work with local businesses to ensure that trans and gender nonconforming people can safely access existing gender-segregated multi-stall facilities appropriate to our gender, and increase the number of gender neutral options for those who need or want them to feel safer.

We’ve even had public demonstrations to rally our supporters to make sure that the Office of Human Rights follows through on their commitment to ensure trans people’s safe access to public facilities!

Some Extra Resources:

  • Toilet Training: A film and training resource by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:  “The video addresses the persistent discrimination, harassment, and violence that people who transgress gender norms face in gender segregated bathrooms.”
  • A searchable online database to find gender neutral and/or wheelchair accessible bathrooms by city.
  • Let Us Pee: A blog in which people post anonymous stories of facing discrimination based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived sexual orientation.

And, help us tell local businesses to LET US PEE!

In the District, we have the right to use the bathroom consistent with our gender identity, regardless of assigned sex. If you’ve been denied access, tell us! Also, all single stale restrooms in any public space, like a restaurant, should be labeled gender neutral (even if it’s next to another bathroom). We’re compiling a list of non-compliant businesses so that we can enforce this regulation. Help us! It’s easy: Whenever you go out, check to see if the bathrooms are labeled appropriately. If not, send the name and address to us!

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