There are plenty of reasons why all bathrooms should be gender neutral. I'm one of the women who bathroom bill opponents predict will be assaulted and victimized should bathrooms no longer be divided by birth-assigned gender — but the idea of sharing a bathroom with people of all genders and gender identities doesn't scare me, because the majority of sexual assaults aren't committed by strangers in bathrooms. According to the National Institute for Justice, 60 percent of sexual assaults are carried out by intimate partners, friends, acquaintances, or relatives. Moreover, despite what transphobic people everywhere would have us believe, statistics show that allowing trans people to pee next to cis people doesn't result in an increase of sexual assaults.
Society's weird obsession with making bathrooms gender specific is something I've never really understood. Whenever I find myself in an establishment that has only gender neutral bathrooms, or at least one gender neutral bathroom, I feel relief on a physical level — in my experience, gender neutral bathrooms typically result in shorter lines, and for me, this means less time dancing around with a full bladder, silently resenting all the women who get to pee before me. But this is probably the least important reason I feel like all bathrooms should be gender neutral.
If all bathrooms were gender neutral, then discriminatory, anti-LGBT legislation, such as North Carolina's House Bill 2 (HB2) law — a law passed in March making it illegal for transgender people in North Carolina to use bathrooms that don't correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificates — wouldn't exist. On top of that, making all bathrooms unisex would probably keep transgender people safer — nearly 70 percent of transgender people say they've experienced verbal harassment in a situation involving gender-segregated bathrooms, while nearly 10 percent reported physical assault. Gender neutral bathrooms would almost definitely make life easier and safer for both traditional and non-traditional families as well.
Unfortunately, I think it's going to be a while before gendered restrooms are truly a thing of the past, but here are a few good reasons to make all bathrooms gender neutral.
1. Segregated Bathrooms Have Historically Been Used To Oppress Marginalized Groups
As Seth Meyers hilariously explains in the video above, historically speaking, bathrooms have been a vehicle for discrimination against marginalized groups. Prior to 1739, when gendered bathrooms made their first recorded debut at a Parisian ball, public bathrooms were often designated for men only. In the U.S., it wasn't until women started hitting the workforce that establishments were even required to provide women with public bathrooms. Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law requiring workplaces with female employees to provide women's restrooms, and it took until the 1920s for this to be a mostly nationwide thing.
In addition to oppressing women, bathroom segregation has also been used to perpetuate racism in the United States. The justifications for North Carolina's HB2 law are eerily similar to the reasoning behind bathroom segregation in the Jim Crow Era American South. As Bustle writer Raina Lispitz explains, "In the Jim Crow era, many lawmakers insisted that public spaces had to be segregated to guard the virtue of white Southern women who would otherwise be vulnerable to sexual assault." Lispitz adds that, during Jim Crow, many Southerners thought white women would be at greater risk for infections if they shared bathrooms with black women. Less than a century ago, bathrooms were segregated by race as a way to "protect" white people from black people; but not unlike today's trans-panic, these safety concerns were based in a deep fear of "The Other" rather than actual danger.
If that's not enough to convince you that our standard bathroom set up has historically been discriminatory to minorities and women, consider the fact that public restrooms weren't even required to offer accessible stalls to disabled persons until the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990.
2. Unisex Bathrooms Would Make Life Easier For All Families
In many ways, gendered bathrooms don't function with traditional or non-traditional families in mind. Typically, only women's restrooms provide diaper changing tables, which is both sexist and inconvenient. Unisex bathrooms would make childcare less challenging for everyone, because if diaper changing stations were in every bathroom, then all dads would have somewhere besides the backseat of their Subaru to change their kids diapers while they're out and about.
More importantly, gendered restrooms cause undue stress for parents of trans children. Unisex bathrooms would likely keep trans kids safer, which would probably help put parents' minds at ease. I can't imagine how scary it must be for parents of trans children to send their young sons and daughters into gender-specific bathrooms unaccompanied while bigoted, transphobic laws are still being passed in this country.
3. Gendered Restrooms Aren't Really About Public Safety
As The Huffington Post reported back in March, in the 17 states and 200 cities where trans people are allowed to pee next to cis people, there has been no increase in sexual assault. Period. Claiming that inclusive bathrooms would encourage male predators to pretend to be transgender just long enough to assault women and children in a public bathroom is ridiculous and unsupported by fact. So the belief that inclusive bathrooms in general, and transgender people specifically, endanger the lives of cis women and children is simply not true.
Furthermore, gender neutral bathrooms would also allow trans parents — and all parents — to accompany their young children into restrooms, no matter their gender. This would bolster their safety, forcing fewer young kids to go into the bathroom without their parents simply because of gender.
4. Unisex Bathrooms Would Mean Shorter Wait Times For Women
As we've briefly discussed already, if all bathrooms were unisex, women wouldn't have to waste as much of their time waiting in long restroom lines. The fact is, cis women typically have to pee more often than men, and we generally take a little longer to go because of the whole sitting-down-to-pee thing. (Not that cis men never do this, of course, but at least they have the option of standing while they pee.)
On top of that, cis women can require more time in the bathroom because we have to deal with menstrual hygiene. Also, since women still tend to be the primary caregivers where children are concerned, mothers of young children are particularly disadvantaged by the long lines gendered bathrooms create. Basically, gender-specific bathrooms are just one more way society prioritizes the needs of men over the needs of women, and it's bullsh*t.
5. We Should Want All Of Our Citizens To Be Safe
Despite what those who oppose it might have you believe, one of the most compelling arguments for doing away with gender-specific restrooms altogether is the fact that they endanger the lives of transgender people. As Time reported last July, "In a study from UCLA’s Williams Institute, nearly 70 percent of transgender people said they had experienced verbal harassment in a situation involving gender-segregated bathrooms, while nearly 10 percent reported physical assault."
Gendered restrooms put transgender citizens of all ages at risk for harassment at best and assault at worst, and this fact shouldn't be ignored. Trans citizens are tax-paying Americans, not predators in disguise, and they deserve to pee in peace. Keeping them safe benefits all of us.