Male or female bathroom? For most that isn’t a big decision but for transgender people it can be an uncomfortable, overwhelming and even scary one.
“I know a lot of people don’t appreciate how scary or how much a nuisance it could be when you’re not welcome in another bathroom,” said Brendon Lies, a 23-Year-Old Florida Atlantic University student, who’s transitioning from female to male. “There’s an actual fear that either you’re going to be yelled at by girls or beaten up by guys. There’s still a lot of rationality behind these fears.”
Lies understands how difficult it can be to choose between a male and female restroom. He recalls one experience he had while transitioning.
“At the beginning of my transition, I was starting to dress more butch, and I had actually started testosterone a few days prior, and I went in the women’s room because I was still not quite passing as a man, and a woman entered,” Lies said. “I panicked and thought she’d judge me so I literally ran out and hid somewhere until she was gone.”
Compass Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Lake Worth is trying to alleviate the stress that comes with being forced to choose a gendered restroom. The center officially went gender neutral in April and attached a sign to each of their bathrooms explaining their decision.
“This bathroom is for everyone. There are real impacts when bathrooms are labeled for women or men only,” the sign reads. “Trans & Gender Non-Conforming people often face discrimination, harassment, arrest or violence in bathrooms! We realize sharing a bathroom could feel new and different. We appreciate your understanding.”
Ryanmarie Rice, Youth Services Coordinator at Compass, is hoping to create safe space for everyone at the center.
“A lot of people feel harassment in public bathrooms. We use this to reflect something that we’ve always had in place,” Rice said. “I want them to know that it’s a safe place.”
Rice says that the changing of the signs was necessary to the center’s vision.
“We have an influx of gender nonconforming and transgender youth,” Rice said. “It’s a sense of relief for people who have anxiety or who worry about safety, harassment or scrutiny to walk into Compass and see the gender neural bathrooms.”
Rice said gender-neutral bathroom signs are just one way that Compass is trying to help transgender people feel more comfortable at their center. Compass also started a youth group specifically for transgender people.
“We’re enhancing our services,” Rice said. “Things will continue to change and evolve down the line, and we’re willing to adapt as needed.”
Julie Seaver, the COO of Compass, said the staff at the center had been talking about going gender neutral for almost a year, but it wasn’t until they attended this year’s National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in February that they finally made the decision to officially do it.
“There were makeshift signs on every single bathroom in the hotel” proclaiming their gender neutral status at the conference, Seaver said. Those signs were the inspiration behind Compass’ signs.
Seaver said it makes sense for an LGBT center to take the lead on something like this.
“If we can’t do that here, then where can we?”