Trans Identity and Public Restrooms

The other day, an article in our local newspaper caught our attention. The article discussed how a Swedish trans woman filed a claim of discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

The trans woman was, on two separate occasions, not allowed to use the women’s restroom after she was told by a “restroom host” that she was in fact a man. Despite explaining her transgender identity and her gender belonging, the woman was not allowed into the restroom.

Other people’s assumptions about transgender identities are a major obstacle for the trans community. The “restroom host” apparently thought that their knowledge and assumptions about transgender individuals were more important and more “right” than the gender identity of the woman. Apparently this woman was not “female enough” or “satisfactory female.” The “restroom host” did not only hold this assumption but also acted upon it, physically blocking the entrance to the restroom.

The fact that the “restroom host” decided over the woman’s rights and also made their own decision about the woman’s gender identity was not bad enough. The article included a short interview with an employee from the Agency of Discrimination (Diskrimineringsbyrån), in which the writer asked, “Could there not be a problem if men start running around in the women’s restroom?”

This argument serves to belittle the seriousness of the situation and completely disregards the feelings of trans women and trans men who face discrimination. At the same time, the author of the article does exactly what the LGBT civil rights organization the Task Force mentions in their report “Injustice at Every Turn”: “Instead of recognizing that the moral failure lies in society’s unwillingness to embrace different gender identities and expressions, society blames transgender and gender non-conforming people for bringing the discrimination and violence on themselves.”

We thought that an article dealing with trans discrimination would seriously discuss the topic and not joke about discrimination.

There are places where gender-neutral bathrooms (also called unisex restrooms) exist, and in some cases, there is an app for that: TranSquat was created to help find gender-neutral bathrooms. This app is not available in all countries, but can assist those individuals looking for gender-neutral bathrooms. There is also a website called safe2pee where individuals can look up gender-neutral bathrooms in various cities and countries.

The discrimination, threats, mistreatment, abuse, and violence suffered by transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are alarming. The Task Force provides information about various injustices, from denial of medical services to police harassment and suicide attempts.

This is not the only isolated issue dealing with access to public restrooms; last September, a woman in New Yorkwas assaulted after trying to use the women’s bathroom. We believe that it is important to include gender-neutral restrooms at workplaces, restaurants, stores, and other public spaces. At the same time, we hope that such bathrooms will not serve to further isolate those who do not fit the stereotypical notions of gender adherence. But as it stands right now, violence, threats, and fear of attacks is not worth it.


  1. Thanks for raising this issue. As a gender non-conforming woman myself, I have to brace myself each time I enter a public women’s restroom. I can’t tell you how happy I am with the growth of “family” restrooms for people with kids for people with disabilities. You brought up a lot of good points, but one I want to be sure is noted is that the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, “Injustice At Every Turn,” was conducted in collaboration by two organizations: My organization, The National Center for Transgender Equality and our partner, The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. We are proud of the partnership that combined the strengths of both groups to enable this groundbreaking work to be done. I’m also very glad that it continues to be useful in explaining some of the struggles that transgender people face.

  2. Excellent article. We need more such safe spaces.

    • Thank you Talia! It seems like such an simple solution to provide more safe spaces and yet it is not readily available which is a shame.

  3. I think unisex toilets are a great idea. They minimize the whole “you are not allowed to use this restroom” business! Thanks for commenting!

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