More

Etsy's latest move is an awesome and simple bit of office inclusivity.

'We believe that gender is not binary and that individuals should use the restroom that feels most comfortable for them.'

Etsy's latest move is an awesome and simple bit of office inclusivity.

There are some really weird, outdated laws on the books in states across the country.

These types of lists pop up year after year. For example, did you know that in a number of states, it's illegal to sell cars on a Sunday? Or that in Massachusetts, you can be fined for singing the national anthem as dance music or in a medley?

Well, there's another law many states have on the books, and it has to do with how businesses should label their bathrooms by gender. But, in 2015, the law doesn't quite reflect reality for many people. And as we as a society become more aware of the fact that gender isn't as binary as bathroom doors might make it seem, well, what's a company to do?


Here's one company's creative solution:

Etsy made restrooms at their office gender-neutral. Or, well, as gender-neutral as the law allows.

An Etsy engineer named Sara posted this picture to Twitter.


That's cool, right? The fact is that not everybody neatly fits into "man" or "woman." Some people are a mix of both, neither, or something entirely altogether. When it comes to public restrooms, that can make things rough. The same goes for transgender people even within the gender binary.

"At Etsy, we continually examine our internal culture and practices, with a focus on fostering an inclusive, comfortable environment for everyone," Etsy vice president of people, workplace, and sustainability Brian Christman told Upworthy in an email.

"With this in mind, we’ve updated restrooms at our DUMBO headquarters to increase privacy and make them more accessible to all people, including transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. We believe that gender is not binary and that individuals should use the restroom that feels most comfortable for them."


Image from Etsy, used with permission.

So it's pretty obvious how Etsy's bathroom signs can be helpful for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks, but what's this about state laws? And how does this story tie into ridiculous laws about dyeing ducks different colors or being unable to seek public office if you've ever participated in a duel?

In most states, it's required that businesses have separate restrooms for both men and women.

Here's how the law in New York — where Etsy is headquartered — reads:

"Separate toilet facilities shall be provided for each sex. All toilet facilities shall be provided with soap, paper towels or electrical hand drying units, and covered waste receptacles. Suitable sanitary napkin receptacles shall be provided in toilet facilities used by females."

OK, got it. Businesses have to provide separate facilities with soap, paper towels, and covered trash cans, and sanitary napkin disposal for the women's room.

And where do these types of laws even come from? The 19th century.

In a great article titled "Sex-Segregated Public Restrooms Are an Outdated Relic of Victorian Paternalism," Ted Trautman gives a quick rundown of where the idea of sex-segregated restrooms even comes from and why they exist. After all, in your house, do you have separate men's and women's restrooms? Probably not.

"Sex segregation was seen by regulators at the time as 'a kind of cure-all' for the era's social anxiety about working women," Trautman writes.

"Women's growing presence in the factory workforce, and in public life more generally, triggered a paternalistic impulse to 'protect' women from the full force of the world outside their homes, which manifested itself architecturally in a bizarro parallel world of spaces for women adjacent to but separate from men's — ladies' reading rooms at libraries, parlors at department stores, separate entrances at post offices and banks, and their own car on trains, intentionally placed at the very end so that male passengers could chivalrously bear the brunt in the event of a collision."

So, in 1887, Massachusetts became the first state to require businesses to have sex-segregated restrooms.


Ah, the good ol' 19th century factory! This is quite literally the model of sex-segregated restrooms. Women operating looms in the winding room of a Lancashire cotton mill. Photo by James Valentine/Getty Images.

And while women-only entrances to post offices and banks, separate reading rooms at libraries, and women-only train cars have become a thing of the past, the whole separate bathroom issue remains to this day.

What's so ridiculous about this law? Well, for one, it's inefficient.

Think about all the times you've seen the line for a women's restroom wrap around down a hallway while the men's room remains line-free. New York City realized this was a problem and decided the solution was ... to require places to build more women's rooms.

Like, this is what happened when more women started getting elected to Congress. As it turns out, the building was made for dudes. Lots and lots of dudes.


But really, if there's a situation where, let's say eight women and two men need to use the restroom, which of these layouts is more efficient?

This one, the one we're most familiar with, where three women are left waiting in line even though there are three perfectly available stalls to use in the men's room?

Or this one that takes up the same amount of space, but which all 10 people can use, do what they have to do, and go about their day?

Obviously, the all-gender restroom is the more efficient option.

But whoa whoa whoa, you may be thinking, "I don't want to share a bathroom with the men in my office!" or "I don't want to share a bathroom with the women in my office! I want some privacy!"

And you should get it! In an ideal world, restrooms would all be single-stall. I mean, who really wants to do ... you know ... next to someone else, anyway? But that's kind of the world we live in.

Breathe easy because it's unlikely all-gender restrooms will come to replace the standard men's and women's rooms anytime soon. Instead, as you'll see with more regularity, lots of places offer up men's, women's, and all gender restrooms. This way, people have a choice (and trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people have the option of using that if they so choose).

For example:

An increasing number of places are moving forward with adopting inclusive restrooms. Especially colleges.

The names vary — gender-neutral, unisex, all gender, gender-inclusive — but the purpose remains the same: restrooms able to be used by anyone of any gender.


Illinois State University has all-gender restrooms. There are still men's and women's restrooms found across campus, but they recently decided to swap the names of the "family restrooms" with more straight-forward language. The same goes for Columbia University, Barnard College, and a growing number of campuses across the country.

In a move as simple as adding a sign to their restroom doors, Etsy is taking a stand for inclusivity and progress.

Yes, it's that easy. To the overwhelming majority of their employees and office visitors, the change will have zero effect on how they navigate the office. But for a few, it'll make a huge, positive impact on their stress and ability to navigate the work day.

"We believe that gender is not binary and that individuals should use the restroom that feels most comfortable for them."

While laws in many places may require there to be separate restrooms labeled "men's" and "women's," that doesn't mean it's impossible to make the world a more inclusive place. It really can be as simple as a sign letting transgender and gender nonconforming individuals know that yes, they are welcome here.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less