Angela Poe Russell: It’s time to reimagine public restrooms

May 29, 2024, 6:41 AM

public restrooms...

Unisex signs hang outside bathrooms. (Photo: Sara D. Davis, Getty Images)

(Photo: Sara D. Davis, Getty Images)

In cities throughout the country and here at home, businesses and public facilities are grappling with how to reimagine public restrooms to be more inclusive. It’s the Great Bathroom Debate. How do we create bathrooms everyone can feel comfortable using?

That’s a question we’ve been grappling with for years now as transgender people seek to use facilities that align with their identity without being harassed or attacked. I think this is a desire we can accommodate and actually all be better for it. In fact, I think we can make public restrooms safer than the traditional ones. Hear me out.

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I personally am disappointed that people have made this a political issue, stoking fears that accommodating transgender people would increase violence. The reality, according to a UCLA School of Law study, is that transgender people are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault and violence.

The truth is, there is a way to address the many potential threats that could surface in a restroom from anyone. The problem is that many of the solutions have been patchwork. Organizations think they are doing the right thing in their remodel and, frankly, they’ve left more people feeling unsafe and awkward.

In one Seattle bathroom, the set-up was such that when you left a stall, the urinal was right in front, so the view leaving a private stall could have been something I did not want to see. Set-ups like these only fuel the resistance to finding a reasonable solution.

So I’m calling for us to get this right and design restroom facilities where everyone can feel safe and where parents feel even better about sending their kids in.

Some places are already doing it. And they are ones I have no hesitation using. For example, in the PCC grocery store in Burien, there is no door to the restroom. You walk in and there are sinks where people can wash hands and as you walk back, there are stalls that anyone can use. They are high and they go all the way to the floor. So not only is this a fully private experience, but a parent of any gender could walk in the hand washing area, watch their kid go into a stall, lock the door and know they are safe.

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With traditional restrooms, opposite-gender parents don’t have this luxury.

I realize every business can’t afford to innovate and make these kinds of changes, but half doing it and causing more harm is not the answer.

So if there’s anything we need to rally around, it’s not another protest or debate, but efforts that support making the fundamental changes we all could benefit from.

Angela Poe Russell fills in as a host on KIRO Newsradio and has been around Seattle media in different capacities for a number of years.

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Angela Poe Russell: It’s time to reimagine public restrooms