An LGBTQ organization at a school in Stockholm made headlines as they lobbied for and received an LGBTQ changing room, or a gender-neutral changing room, at their school. Two of the spokespeople for the organization said that they wanted a changing room for individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Last week the school held a ceremony celebrating the very first gender-neutral changing room in the nation.
We believe that this is a step in the right direction since there need to be spaces for LGBTQ individuals where they can feel safe and have access to accommodations that does not force them into stereotypical gender categories, or the categories of simply female or male.
At the same time, there is a lack of understanding of the LGBTQ community, as was demonstrated in discussions surrounding the opening of the gender neutral changing room. Rather than focusing on violence against LGBTQ individuals and their need for safe spaces the person who covered the story wondered how safe it would be to have both men and women change in the same room. The interviewer seems to assume that in an LGBTQ changing room the categories of male and female still rigidly apply, without being aware of the fact that many people within the LGBTQ community do not simply identify as male or female.
Secondly, rather than focusing on the immediate need for safe spaces, such as changing rooms and restrooms for LGBTQ individuals, the interviewer is worried about the safety of within the changing room. Perhaps not intentionally, the interviewer still displays a bias towards the LGBTQ community, stating that safety within such a changing room is far more important than safety from the “outside”, displaying a stereotype that we somehow need to be worried about those who do not fit or adhere to categorically strict gender roles. What the interviewer does not mention is that LGBTQ individuals face injustices, discrimination and violence at a very high rate. It is therefore likely that individuals are safer within the changing room than outside it.
The unawareness of LGBTQ issues displayed in the article is very similar to a different story that we discussed a while back in regards to a trans woman that was not allowed to use the women’s restroom. Again, a person commenting on that case said that: “Could there not be a problem if men start running around in the women’s restroom” which disregards the fact that the person in question identified as a woman.
Other comments too showed a lack of understanding of LGBTQ issues and especially so trans identities. For example, many people stated that it was completely unnecessary to introduce a gender neutral changing room as there are only two genders, even saying that historically people have only lived as men or women (which is in fact not true). It is great that Sweden is focusing on its trans students but at the same time discussions such as these show that there is a great lack of respect and understanding for those who do not clearly label their identities according to the norm.