by Miriam Barnett
CEO of the YWCA Pierce County
No big deal. It’s just a bathroom.
That is exactly how I would have responded if someone asked me about our bathrooms at the YWCA. Then I attended a workshop at the YWCA USA Annual Conference called “Addressing Issues of Gender Identity and Gender Expression.”
As I sat in the audience listening intently to panel member Kylar Broadus, I heard his personal stories of violence for being a female-to-male (FTM) transsexual. I never thought about what it would feel like to have to decide which bathroom to use. And I certainly never thought of the humiliation and violence that trans people endure as a result.
In that ah-ha moment, the light bulb went on in my head (and heart). The best thing about being human is gaining knowledge and then acting on it.
Back at home at the YWCA Pierce County in Tacoma, WA we had bathrooms clearly labeled “Women” and “Men.”
I took my concern for the way we were labeling our bathrooms to our Cultural Competency Committee. Gaining their full support, we decided that we would discuss changing how we label our bathrooms at the next all-staff meeting that was almost a month away. Then someone said, “But we have a trans FTM (female-to-male) with a baby right now in our meeting room.” The only changing table was in the women’s restroom.
Waiting was out of the question.
While one committee member went to let the individuals in the meeting know of the change, another committee member printed up temporary signs, and I typed this email to the 45 members of our staff:
“The Cultural Competency Committee met today and on our agenda was a discussion about bathrooms and how people identify. At the national YWCA Conference, Jennine and I heard a trans speaker share how he has endured unbelievable personal violence as a result of the bathroom he chose to use. This made us aware that our bathrooms force people to make a decision that does not always include their identified gender.
Examples of bathroom signs were shared that create gender inclusive and welcoming environments for all. You may notice that we have placed temporary signs on the 405 main floor bathrooms.
We will be making some changes. For instance, the bathroom now identified as “men” will become a single locked door. The bathroom now identified as “women” will have privacy strips attached to the stalls.*
Until we get the right locking door for the former men’s bathroom, if you prefer to use the bathroom on the mezzanine level, it already is a single locking door bathroom.
If you have any questions or concerns, please free to discuss them with me or other members of the Cultural Competency Committee.”
I also sent an email to the board since they also meet here. All totaled, over 70 people received the email.
And one week later, only one concern has been voiced. That concern is that women will not be safe. Luckily I had read an excellent resource titled “Peeing in Peace.” It addressed that very concern by pointing out that woman are not safe now. Just because there is a sign that says “Women,” there is nothing to keep someone out if they want to do harm. They can hide in an adjoining stall or barge right in. I will point out that this has never happened. Regardless, if this staff member is worried, there are options. They can opt to use the other gender-welcoming and inclusive bathroom (formerly called the “men’s” bathroom) which is a single use bathroom with a locking exterior door.
I am reminded of the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere affects justice everywhere.”
Thank you, Kylar, for opening my eyes to an injustice I was not aware of. My hope is that one day in the not so distant future, labeling bathrooms for men and women will go the way of the dinosaur… into extinction.
*There is a vinyl product meant for stripping the edge of windows. It has an adhesive strip and is a very inexpensive way to provide privacy to existing stalls. It has always bothered me that you can look right in a bathroom stall through the space between the door and stall. Now that issue is resolved and it took a mere few minutes with a product we happened to already have in the building.