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Flushing Without Fear

By Tony Peregrin in News on Feb 24, 2011 6:47PM

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T-Friendly Bathroom Initiative decal
Upon hearing about a new initiative allowing gender-variant customers to use public bathrooms of their choice, we can just see the thought-bubble appearing above certain individuals’ pert little heads: Will this project make women unsafe in bathrooms? Will a woman need to urinate next to a man? In a word—No. (But more on that later.)

A grassroots community project organized by Genderqueer Chicago, the T-Friendly Bathroom Initiative challenges business owners to protect gender identity in their public restrooms by displaying a window decal signaling that they are a trans-friendly business.

“This year, more than 500 businesses and organizations will be asked to sign a pledge that commits them to allowing gender-variant customers to use the bathroom of their choice,” says Kate Sosin, co-founder of Genderqueer Chicago. We want business owners to understand that under the Illinois Human Rights Act, it is not just their right to protect transgender people in bathrooms, it is their duty.”

According to Sosin, 25, a resident of Edgewater, “Gender identity and expression is protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act, but everyday, countless transgender people are harassed in public restrooms for not "passing" as male or female. This policing often results in violence against gender-variant people. It can also mean health complications for those who are not allowed regular access to bathrooms.”

A handful of businesses and organizations have already signed the pledge including: Kitchen Sink, Zanzibar, Access Living, Earwax (closing at the end of the month), Georges, Metropolis and Berlin nightclub.

“It’s important for Berlin to be involved with the T-Friendly Bathroom decal [Initiative] because it represents everything that Berlin believes in and encourages,” says Scott Cramer, 29, publicist and events coordinator for Berlin. “We have always made an effort to provide a safe and equal space for all.The more pledges and commitments that can be made to this [program], the better,”

Sosin offered Chicagoist a little toilet training as she explained the purpose of the new initiative and why it’s important for gender-variant people to be able to easily identify trans-friendly public bathrooms.

Chicagoist: Was there a specific event that launched or inspired this initiative?

Kate Sosin: I had the idea for the project over a year ago. Going out with friends has been really stressful at times because in a group of trans people, you’re never sure if someone is going to have trouble trying to use the bathroom—even in LGBTQ spaces. I had business owners tell me that the law stated that they had to police the bathrooms, and I tried to explain to them that that wasn’t true.

I knew that the Illinois Human Rights Act protected gender identity and expression, so I thought it was absurd that we were still having any issue. The decal seemed like an obvious solution—you educate business owners, challenge establishments to be inclusive, raise awareness, and give transgender people a way of identifying businesses that are safe.

C: How are trans-friendly bathrooms in businesses displaying the decal different from unisex bathrooms?

KS: Unisex or gender-neutral bathrooms are absolutely the best solution because no one can kick you out for not looking like a man or a woman. We are awarding businesses stickers even if they have unisex bathrooms because we think they deserve to be labeled as safe spaces, and trans people can benefit from knowing what those businesses are.

C: Are there other T-friendly bathroom initiatives like this across the country—or is Chicago the first?

KS: I have heard talk that someone started something vaguely similar in New York City, but I haven’t been able to find information on it. So, it is possible. We didn’t have a model for this project, however.

C: Talk a little about why participating businesses must sign a contract.

KS: The business must sign the pledge because it’s important for them to understand what taking a decal means. The purpose of the pledge is to provide a written record that a business understands its responsibilities. If it fails in those responsibilities, we say that their pledge has been broken. In an instance where a business doesn’t apologize or fix the problem, we will revoke the decal.

C: Coming up with a logo for a gender-inclusive public bathroom seems like a daunting task, even for the most talented designer. How did you come up with this logo?

KS: The logo is the work of Andy Perez, who created the Transgender Oral History Project, and does a lot of queer and transgender organizing in Chicago. Christina Kahrl [of Equality Illinois] had the idea to use a hand-washing symbol, and we all added feedback to the original designs.

C: Kate—some people might wonder if this project will make women unsafe in public bathrooms. Will a woman need to urinate next to a man?

KS: Transgender people and women are both impacted by gendered violence and discrimination, so we don’t really see a point in pitting the two against each other. This project aims to shed light on discrimination and violence in public restrooms, and we hope this will make women safer, too.

Women who are not transgender might pee next to transgender women, which is something that happens all the time anyway. We’re just working to make sure that transgender women (and all gender-variant people) are safer now. Regardless of who you pee next door to, we’re hoping you’re peeing in place that has doors on the stalls, which kind of makes the issue null and void. A lot of colleges and universities have gender-neutral bathrooms in their dorms. It’s really not an issue.

For more information, please contact Kate Sosin at