Fort Collins Gender Inclusive Restrooms: Opening Doors for All People
Advocating for change can be as simple as starting a conversation, and seemingly small actions can be imperative for progress.
This is the reality of LGBTQ+ people today. Namely, the trans and nonbinary community are embracing their part of the conversation, chiming into cisgender America, “We’re here, we’re not going away, and there will only be more of us, so listen up.”
For transgender and non-binary individuals, data in the U.S. is scarce, and data for nonbinary people barely exists at all. Williams Institute’s 2016 study surveyed 0.6% of American adults as trans-identifying, about 1.4 million people. The results of the 2016 survey doubled those of the previous 2011 survey.
As trans and nonbinary people have more visibly emerged into society, public perception is skewed. The trans and nonbinary community is incredibly diverse. Some trans and nonbinary people enjoy passing privilege among cisgender people, while those who do not visibly fit into the binary may be encouraged to get surgery or take hormones, belittled for trying to relieve themselves in public, or in many cases, especially with trans women of color, killed. Last year was the deadliest on record for trans women of color in the U.S., and The Advocate reported in early June that, of the 12 known homicides of trans people in the U.S. in 2018, nine were trans women of color.
In the current U.S. climate, LGBTQ+ people are on the lips of legislators and Americans. The conversation is moving from the stringent, societal confinements of “man or woman, gay or straight,” encouraging the removal of the binary and embracing what gender and sexuality truly is: a spectrum.
Walking around Colorado as a cisgender person, it is not hard to find a comfortable place to pee. It’s hardly a thought. This is typically not the case for trans and nonbinary people. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 59% of respondents avoided using restrooms in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations and violence, and 32% of respondents said they limited the amount they ate or drank to avoid using a public restroom. If that sounds like an issue, that’s because it is.
Looking at the amount of binary-labeled, single-stall restrooms around the Colorado State University campus and Fort Collins, Kelly Connor knew there must be a better solution. After dating trans and nonbinary individuals, and identifying as nonbinary herself, Kelly felt compelled to work with CSU toward being more inclusive. “It started as a personal quest, to try and do something to make a difference for people on our campus, so they weren’t missing out on educational opportunities because they were worried.”
In June 2016, Kelly led the initiative to push CSU to replace its single-stall, binary restroom signs with gender-inclusive signage for a social welfare policy class. Kelly and other students gathered nearly 300 signatures and conducted a campus-wide survey of over 800 respondents of various gender identities, asking about single-stall restrooms and inclusive signage.
Over 87% of respondents agreed with the initiative for more inclusive signage and at least one gender-inclusive restroom in each existing CSU building. The research confirmed there were 135 easy-to-convert, single-stall restrooms on CSU’s main campus at the time. There were 65 all gender restrooms when the initiative came about, and according to CSU Facilities Management Planning Specialist Martha Coleman, the university currently boasts 242 all gender restrooms. “All buildings and major additions in progress and in the future include all gender restrooms as part of the project design,” Coleman said.
While working with CSU to improve policy on restroom signage, Kelly was a practicum intern at FoCo Cafe. After working with CSU and seeing signage issues at the Cafe, Kelly reached out to the online sign retailer SmartSign for resources, which offered to provide free signage to the restaurant, making FoCo Cafe the first location in town part of a new initiative: Fort Collins Gender Inclusive Restrooms.
Julia Osborn was a student at CSU with similar convictions as Kelly. They met in the midst of Kelly’s CSU project in the summer of 2016, and the two began dating and discussing how the initiative could progress.
Julia decided to use an assignment for a queer studies class to further the initiative Kelly had started. With Kelly already having a relationship with SmartSign, Julia ordered 20 new signs. After creating a Facebook page and formal proposal, she began approaching different businesses around Fort Collins with single-stall restrooms and binary signage.
Thai Pepper, Alley Cat, and Pizza Casbah were some of the first businesses Julia and Kelly worked with to replace restroom signs, and Fort Collins Gender Inclusive Restrooms has given out and installed approximately 27 signs in Fort Collins businesses and nonprofits so far.
“A lot of places were really receptive to it, which I think was always the coolest thing for me, when I would go in somewhere and not have to do the educating or the convincing people about why they should do this,” Julia said. “I’d show up there and be like, ‘Hey, I have this proposal; who can I talk to?’ and pretty much immediately, whoever it was would be like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been talking about trying to do something like this. I’m so glad you’re here.’”
The initiative enlisted a third member when Kelly pulled Laura Brundage on board in June 2017. Laura is agender and nonbinary, and their past experience in grassroots activism, bathroom policy, and sexual health made the new role a quick fit.
“I was seeing a lot of kids, especially in the school district that we worked with in Longmont, were having physical issues from not being able to use the bathroom,” Laura said. “Often times, it resulted in kidney problems, stomach aches, headaches, all sorts of psychosomatic issues, and that’s what really pushed me to fight harder for it — I was seeing 12-year-old trans kids who couldn’t use the bathroom while they were in school and were getting laughed at by teachers.”
Not to say that every Fort Collins business is receptive to change. Kelly, Julia, and Laura all said many businesses were initially very enthusiastic but failed to follow up later. Other businesses were more hesitant, some citing issues of cleanliness and group drug use, among other concerns.
“Sometimes, I try and approach it with like, ‘Who else can benefit from these bathrooms?’” Kelly said. “Not to take away from the fact that they are for people who don’t fit within the binary, but I’ll use the example: a parent with a child of the opposite gender, or a man whose wife just had a stroke and she needs to administer estrogen in the bathroom. The bathroom topic gives access to a multitude of people, and so it’s really like access for everyone.”
Many people — single parents, people with special needs, who are differently-abled or disabled and may rely on the assistance of a caretaker for any number of reasons, or those who need additional privacy in the bathroom — benefit from gender-inclusive restrooms.
Julia worked as a respite care provider, assisting differently-abled and disabled clients, some of whom needed additional help in the restroom. While she helped these clients, sometimes appearing as a different gender than her, Julia noticed the discomfort of others.
“In my perception, they felt uncomfortable because there was somebody they saw as a male in the women’s restroom, and that was hard for me because it never limited my ability to use the restrooms with clients of mine, but it didn’t feel good,“ Julia said. “What else would somebody do in that situation? It seemed to me like people were pretty quick to have this gut reaction and not really think about what the means of others are, and how maybe they could stop for a second and try to be more compassionate and more accommodating in those situations.”
Another crucial conversation to address is the pursuit of multi-stall, gender-inclusive restrooms. Laura worked with a nonprofit for inclusive signage on their multi-stall facilities; the major distinction was whether or not the bathroom had urinals.
“Then, it’s really just about facilities, and it’s not about the gender identity of the person who’s using it,” Laura said. “I am really pushing for that and having it be more about the building layout, versus having it be this weird, identity-policing that kind of happens with restrooms.”
Some of this pushback makes the current and future efforts of Fort Collins Gender Inclusive Bathrooms crucial in the Fort Collins and Colorado community. Colorado is prideful as a progressive state, but we sometimes put high value on social equality and don’t always go the full mile to make sure we are doing it correctly, or in an educated way.
“So many places are so eager to splat up the safe zone signs, but those don’t mean shit,” Laura said. “But then if I go into a place, and they have that correct signage, the correct policy, all of these things, then I immediately feel supported. It’s a completely different environment.”
In August 2017, Kelly moved to St. Louis and began working at the City of Ferguson, naturally taking her passion from the project she started in Colorado to Missouri, and ultimately converting over 15 bathrooms in City Hall and other government buildings. Julia moved to Mancos, CO in May 2017 and is a senior field guide for a wilderness therapy program, working in nature with adolescents struggling with mental illness, addiction, social, and LGBTQ+ issues. She recently began identifying as nonbinary.
Laura is now the head of the Fort Collins Gender Inclusive Restroom initiative and continues to work with local businesses who are interested in replacing their restroom signs. Laura also hopes to put Fort Collins Gender Inclusive Restrooms initiative within reach of adolescents and young adults who can help the movement grow moving forward.
“I would love to get a bigger globalized community effort going, because right now it’s just me,” Laura said. “It really shouldn’t just be me; it should be a community. It’s a great way to be an ally, campaigning for stuff like this.”
Laura is still working with SmartSigns and has a number of reserved signs for the initiative, and can order more for free, given the needs of the business and the accommodations of the bathrooms. Laura said the turnaround is typically very quick, with some installations happening that same day.
If you are a business looking to change your restroom signs to be more inclusive, or an individual looking to help with the initiative, contact Laura Brundage at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the initiative Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/FCgenderinclusiverestrooms.
If you don’t live in Northern Colorado and have a passion for LGBTQ+ issues, get involved in your own community and seek out relevant groups that are already in place. If those groups don’t exist, educate yourself on the gender-inclusive restroom policy and intersectional issues, like Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance issues, and follow the example of Kelly, Julia, and Laura — approach businesses, educate them on the benefits, follow up, and be the one to make it happen.
Finally, follow Julia’s call to action:
“Be an ally in your community. If you’re cisgender, you’re straight, you’re white, you’re totally able-bodied — just listening and taking a step back, and asking, ‘What is it that my friends who are not straight, not able-bodied, and who are not white, what do they need, and what do they want?’ and asking them those questions, and then helping them fight for whatever that is.”
Keegan Williams is the Assistant Editor and a writer for Salt Magazine. He is a queer, cisgender LGBTQ+ ally with a passion for social justice issues.
LGBTQ+: A shortened acronym referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, nonbinary people, and similar identities
Gender: Socially-constructed roles, behavior, and attitudes that society deems appropriate for men and women
Cisgender or Cis: Gender identity indicating that a person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth
Transgender or Trans: Gender identity indicating that a person identifies with a gender that differs from what they were assigned at birth. Trans men, trans women, drag queens and kings, and people with nonbinary gender identities may identify as trans
The Gender Binary: The societal classification of gender into two distinct, contrasting forms of masculinity and femininity
Human Sexuality Spectrum: A continuum that accounts for every variation of human sexuality and gender identity and also contradicts the sexual and gender binary
Nonbinary: Outside of the male and female binary; people who identify with a nonbinary gender identity stand apart from the two, binary genders, and there are many nonbinary gender identities, including genderqueer, agender, and genderfluid, among many others, and may indicate a shifting, lack of, or acceptance of multiple, stereotypically male and female gender characteristics
Queer: Umbrella term for people who are gay, a lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersexual, nonbinary, and those whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity falls outside the norm
Pronouns: Cis and trans men may prefer “he/his” pronouns and cis and trans women may prefer “she/her” pronouns, unless otherwise specified, trans people and nonbinary people, and others may prefer gender-neutral, singular “they/them” pronouns. Some nonbinary people use binary pronouns, and pronouns can shift
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