Yelp recently took a break from crowd-sourced business reviews to announce a new feature that has nothing to do with food or service, but everything to do with comfort and equality: Yelp can help you find gender neutral bathrooms now, and it's a hugely important move. "What constitutes a gender neutral restroom, you ask?" Rachel Williams, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Yelp, wrote in a blog post announcing the new search function. "Gender neutral restrooms are accessible to persons of any gender and are a locking, single-stall bathroom." With the rollout of the new feature, users will be able to see on both the website and app whether or not a business offers these inclusive bathrooms, and in the coming weeks potential-patrons will even be able to search the site for Gender Neutral restrooms alone! Hopefully, the feature will be an climate where these essential services are under threat.
Here's how the app will build its database of gender neutral restroom options: When a user checks into a business or posts a review, Yelp will prompt them with the question, "Does this business have Gender Neutral Restrooms?" Users have the option to reply "yes", "no", or "not sure." Owners of businesses featured on the site can also easily update the "gender neutral restroom" attribute themselves, where it will appear along with other such vital information. Bathrooms may not have seemed like a big deal on the site before, but this new option is a welcome change.
As TechCruch points out, Yelp's service relies on its users to enter the bathroom details, so it may take some time before it becomes a viable source of information. Important resources like Refuge Restrooms, meanwhile, have spent years compiling a database of gender neutral and safe restrooms accessible to transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals across the country. Similarly, web designer Emily Waggoner, who grew up in Raleigh, created a trans-friendly bathroom map for the state of North Carolina after governor Pat McCrory signed a "bathroom bill" into law.
According to TechCrunch, the feature was developed in direct response to Trump's roll back of the federal protections allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. "People in this company were so incensed by what’s going on in our country, and to potential employees and customers, that they wanted to do something to support,” Williams told TechCrunch. “The product team got it done within a couple of days. They dropped everything to add this feature. I’m overjoyed and proud.”
It seems the gender neutral bathroom filter is only part one of Yelp's activism. On Thursday, March 2, Yelp announced that it had signed on to an amicus brief, along with 52 other tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft, supporting 17-year-old trans student Gavin Grimm, whose case is set to be heard by the Supreme Court this month. The decision of the case could determine whether transgender people will have the same protections under the sex discrimination law Title IX, and have serious impacts on the future of transgender rights.
While the future may be uncertain, Yelp's latest move is helping to ensure that all customers have access to a safe restroom.