One woman's clever plan to revolutionize single-stall bathrooms.
Kristin Russo and her wife were at a restaurant in Union Square when they were faced with a serious dilemma: They both had to pee.
The problem wasn't that there was a line for the restroom. Quite the opposite. There were only two bathrooms; both single-stall, and both vacant.
Two people. Two private toilets. Should be easy, right?
And it is — except for that pesky stick figure of a man emblazoned on one of the doors, an arbitrary indicator of who is allowed to do their private business in that private little room.
Sure, one of them probably could have just slipped into the men's room. But that wouldn't solve the larger problem: Why do we need to gender single-stall bathrooms in the first place?
"It's so silly, but it's a good reflection of how much that gender binary permeates our society," Russo told Upworthy.
Russo felt compelled to do … something. But she wasn't exactly sure how to broach the subject with the restaurant's management.
Her feelings of nervousness and uncertainty came as a surprise even to her, considering the fact that she's the co-founder and CEO of the LGBTQ community organization Everyone Is Gay. This kind of activism is what she does.
She also knew that this bathroom situation was even more difficult for people who are trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming — people like Mal Blum, a singer-songwriter who lives in New York and is a major supporter of Russo's work.
"I was choosing between gendered single-stall bathrooms at a favorite diner in NYC just yesterday," Blum said over email. "Personally, I think it should be a law everywhere that if a bathroom is intended for use by one person, then it needs to be accessible for any one person and shouldn't be gendered."
Because of her experience, and feedback from people like Blum, Russo was inspired to launch a new initiative called OUR Restroom.
Though it's still in its earliest funding stages, OUR (which stands for "One Unisex Restroom") is a pretty simple resource that allows people to nominate businesses with single-stall bathrooms, asking them to embrace the full accommodations of gender neutrality.
Then the OUR team staff — which at this point is Russo and her colleague, singer/songwriter Allison Weiss — will reach out to those businesses and help them through the process of becoming a place where all people can pee in comfort.
"OUR Restroom will affect tangible day-to-day change for many people, because they're willing to put the work in to talk to businesses directly about this," Blum said.
On one hand, this sounds so simple that it's almost silly — it's basically just taking down a sign, right?
But on the other hand, it can still be a lot more complicated than that.
Some businesses might not realize that single-stall bathrooms are better for everyone because they're too busy to even think about it.
Others might be intimidated by the potentially labyrinthine zoning laws or other legal requirements in their states (which are slowly being broken down, state-by-state, but are still pretty ridiculous).
For example, the Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock, California, was ready and willing to take down their gendered bathroom signs. But, according to Russo, several city engineers pointed out a passage in the city's zoning codes that might be a problem (emphasis added) :
"At least one toilet room is required on the premises. If over three (3) employee or if selling beer, wine or liquor to be consumed on the premises, separate toilet rooms are required for each sex."
It wasn't clear if these bathrooms had to be marked for each sex or if two unisex bathrooms would suffice. And even when she went down to the city's Building Safety Department to speak to someone directly, Russo couldn't figure out a clear standard of enforcement for it either.
In the end, the worst-case scenario would be … someone might make them put the signs back up. Maybe. Some day. And that's exactly what Russo and her team are there for: to navigate the weird laws, so businesses don't have to, and then kick those old gendered signs to the curb.
In a time of rampant bathroom discrimination, the work that OUR Restroom is doing is more important than ever.
"I hope that this is the first step of our work, and then we can go further into the bathroom conversation," Russo told Upworthy. "Obviously HB2 is a huge part of this."
OUR Restroom is still just getting started, but they've already done some phenomenal work in a short time — for people of all genders. In the meantime, cities like Philadelphia, Seattle, and New York have also started requiring gender neutral bathrooms.
"People who are made most vulnerable by this (trans and gender nonconforming people) shouldn't have to be the ones to have that conversation (unless we want to, or want to work with or for OUR Restroom, that is)," Blum said, explaining the importance of OUR Restroom for people like them.
When everybody can do their business in comfort, everybody wins.
As New York Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Queens) said, "Designating single stall bathrooms as all gender is an easy way to create a welcoming environment for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. As an added bonus, anyone who is looking for an unoccupied bathroom will now have more options."
See? Amazing how that works!