Spectrum: The importance of accessing gender neutral washrooms

A new website empowers people to find gender neutral bathrooms

(Kristen Frier)

(Kristen Frier)

We’ve all had that moment: you are sitting in a movie theatre or on a bus and quickly find yourself regretting trying to fit 16 ounces of soda into an eight-ounce bladder. Or you are taking a pleasant stroll through the city, and whatever iffy thing you ate earlier decides it’s ready to come back with a vengeance. Whatever the reason may be, eventually, there will always be a time when we will have to use the bathroom.

However, for trans and gender-nonconforming people, something that seems so simple can be really complicated. Ever since 2015, social conservatives have repeated the tired (and untrue) trope that allowing trans people specifically trans women to use the bathroom matching their gender identity would enable predators to take advantage of cis women. 

This little piece of hateful misinformation has helped overturn laws in the United States that would ban discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and has even enabled Republicans in various states to pass laws allowing states to discriminate against trans people

And with the rise in popularity of a few figures in Canada who are widely considered transphobic including the likes of Meghan Murphy and Chris Elston the simple act of using a public bathroom is causing trans and GNC people a lot of understandable anxiety.

Enter Refuge. Refuge is a database that allows folks to find gender-neutral bathrooms in their area. Using it is a straightforward endeavour, too. 

You type in your city or a city you may be visiting and it will list all the businesses in your town with gender-neutral bathrooms, accessible bathrooms, and bathrooms that have a changing table. With this simple function, you can easily see which cities are doing well in providing safe spaces for trans people to use the bathroom. And which cities are… lacking. 

Spoiler alert: Pitt Meadows, speaking as a resident, y’all have work to do. And before you say anything, Maple Ridge, you’re no better, but that’s a petty rivalry to get into another day. 

Putting snark aside, having this website will undoubtedly be a godsend for many trans and GNC folks in the Metro Vancouver area. 

KPU and many other educational institutions have implemented gender-neutral bathrooms, which is commendable on their part. This signals to trans and GNC folks that they are welcome and safe in these spaces, which can mean so much to those who can’t have that experience elsewhere. 

However, with LGBTQ+ people in Canada being more likely to live in poverty than their cisgender counterparts, attending university is a privilege not all can afford as is the internet which is why public libraries are essential. Hopefully, there will come a time when people begin to see through the transphobic disinformation spreading faster than COVID in Edmonton, and figures like Murphy and JK Rowling will be relegated to the past where they belong. 

Until then, however, trans and GNC people being able to have a virtual directory for them to find a gender-neutral bathroom where they are will undoubtedly be life-changing maybe even lifesaving.