Mapping safe toilets for transgender Americans

  • 31 March 2016
Protesters chant at the intersection of Franklin St. and Columbia St. where they formed a circled and stopped traffic for hours in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, March 29, 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters rallied in Chapel Hill, North Carolina against the new law

For most, the act of going to the bathroom is an unremarkable part of their daily routines. However, for transgender people, fear of harassment makes this small decision a tough obstacle.

In North Carolina a recent law has been introduced requiring people to only use bathrooms that match the gender they were assigned at birth.

Web designer Emily Waggoner was "devastated" by the new legislation, and decided to do something to help those in need of a safe location to use non-gendered bathrooms.

Waggoner created a map peppered with small toilet roll icons, showing the locations of businesses that have declared their facilities safe for those who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming.

Image copyright Google My Maps: Safe Bathrooms
Image caption Waggoner has created an online map of safe bathrooms for transgendered people in North Carolina.

Although Waggoner lives in Boston with her partner, she grew up in North Carolina and was nervous for her transgender friends in the state.

"Bathroom violence is real," Waggoner told BBC Trending. "It happens to people in the trans community, so we were really nervous and worried about our friends there. The more we talked about it, the more helpless we felt."

Despite her fears, Waggoner was heartened by the number of people online posting messages of solidarity for the transgender community, particularly businesses saying their facilities were safe.

Waggoner wanted to bring all these individual companies together in one online platform.

"Google maps seemed like the natural place to go. You can customise it, easily send it to people and control who accesses it," she said.

Waggoner asks businesses to verify their support for the transgender community before being added, with proof ranging from social media posts to pictures of non-gendered toilet signs.

Though she is nervous this resource could be used by anti-trans groups to target these, Waggoner says defiance is better than fear.

"It's important not to back down and to express solidarity. There's safety in numbers too. The more businesses that get added, the more we'll see coming out in support."

Avery Dickerson, who has just started the transition process from female to male, is assisting Waggoner with her project by providing non-gendered toilet signs to interested establishments.

Image copyright Deconstructed Gender
Image caption Avery Dickenson has created non-gendered signs

Now living in Greensboro, North Carolina, Dickerson thinks the map will be an "incredible resource". In the past, to avoid confusion or harassment, Dickerson would try to avoid public toilets.

"This law is scary to be honest. It's a huge step backwards," says Dickerson. "But, this could be an opening for a conversion. For people who don't know about the transgender community, you can explain it to them and the [signs] show pride in the community."

At time of publication, there were just over 100 sites pinpointed on the map and over 85,000 people had viewed the page.

Waggoner hopes the laws will change and that the map will only be a temporary necessity.

"But we're going to keep it going as long as there are places that want to be listed," she adds. "We'd love to be able to use it nationwide too, spread it to other states where they need it."

Blog by Olivia Lace-Evans

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