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Group Calls For More Gender-Neutral Bathrooms In Chicago

By Mae Rice in News on Jan 25, 2016 3:53PM

Potential designs for gender-free bathroom signage via The Chicago Restroom Access Project's survey

The Chicago Restroom Access Project, a group of local activists, is working to create and gender-neutral restrooms signage and get local businesses to use them for single-user restrooms.

Last week, at the Chicago activist conference Creating Change, every attendee was asked which of the group’s four proposed sign designs they prefer, via a simple survey (which can also be accessed by anyone interested on Pride Action Tank’s Facebook). Designs range from a picture of a toilet to a genderless stick figure’s head and shoulders and the words “Toilet For All.”

The activist group’s hope is to make public restrooms more user-friendly for gender non-conforming people, who often feel uncomfortable or unsafe using public restrooms—a situation that can have serious repercussions.

"There are health impacts for people who, say, cannot use the bathroom for the entire day,” Gina Olson, a Chicago Restroom Access Project member, told Chicagoist. (Olson is also associate director of the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.) “They can suffer dehydration, or different types of infections... In terms of safety, people are sometimes threatened violently. 'You don't belong here! I'm calling security!’ or someone may choose to remove them themselves."

This is supported by a Williams Institute study, which found that discomfort and harassment related to public restrooms affected gender non-conforming people's entire lives, from their employment to their health.

The Chicago Restroom Access Project is currently focusing on changing the signage for single-user restrooms, where shifting signage won’t affect fellow bathroom patrons’ experience, but could cut down on policing behavior—some of it violent—which Olson says can happen, "any time that there's a gender indication on the bathroom.”

“A lot of restaurants may have a single stall for men, a single stall for women,” she added. “Really there is no real reason they need to be gender identified.”

Once the group has settled on sign imagery, they plan to distribute the signs as widely as possible, Olson said.

“We will make aggressive efforts to reach out to businesses, Chambers of Commerce, to people who are in the position to take the single user bathrooms in their establishments and make it a gender-neutral bathroom.”