Gender neutral bathroom initiative to hit Chicago

By Heather McGraw

Seven Chicago businesses have committed to making sure their restroom environments are safe for transgender people.

The T-friendly bathroom initiative started by Genderqueer Chicago raised enough money to fully launch its project throughout the city, after having been in the works for a year.

Genderqueer is a community group focused on creating a safe environment for gender variant people and educating the general public on lifestyle issues.

Their mission is to have businesses and establishments around Chicago sign pledges promising to maintain a friendly bathroom environment for nonconforming gender individuals.

Malic White, project organizer for the initiative, said the pledges are in accordance with the Illinois Human Rights Act and commit the owner to a non-discriminatory bathroom policy based on gender.

Made effective in 2006, a specific portion of the IHRA states it is public policy to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation, including the availability of public accommodations.

“[The pledge] also says the business owner will interfere with any violence or harassment they might witness based on gender in their bathrooms,” White said.

When an establishment signs the pledge, it receives a decal from Genderqueer to display in its window and show support for the initiative. The group’s goal is to get 500 pledges signed this year.

“We have that goal [right now] because we could only raise enough money to print 500 decals to start off,” White said. “Now that this is a community-wide project, we’re expecting if we get enough people involved we might be able to surpass that number.”

Seven establishments around the city have already signed or committed to sign the pledge.

Genderqueer plans to continue spreading the initiative through community outreach programs and training sessions. They’ve also set up a Wikipedia page:, for more information.

“Right now we’re mostly looking at independent businesses and organizations,” White said. “Any building with a public bathroom is fair game.”

Seth Alexander, general manager of Metropolis Coffee Company, 1039 W. Granville Ave., said it was important for the coffee shop to sign the pledge because it has always tried to be a safe place where customers feel comfortable sitting down, enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation.

“It’s my opinion, and I think that of the rest of our crew, the present initiative adds another important component to our policies already in place,” Alexander said.

Metropolis has its window decal on display and Alexander is working to get the bathroom signs changed to something more trans-friendly and has a few ideas in mind.

Zanzibar Cafe & Coffee Shop, 1036 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., is also committed to signing the pledge, though it is already a step ahead of the game because its bathrooms are unisex—or what White called gender-neutral.

A unisex bathroom is one without a gender label assigned to it and is open to either sex. While White admits adding an additional unisex bathroom is not an option for every establishment, creating a restroom environment where any transsexual individual can feel comfortable is a good first step.

The Edgewater coffee shop had its unisex bathrooms in mind since the designing stage and, according to manager Ken Gasch, he noticed the establishment is in a neighborhood generally accepting of alternative lifestyles.

According to Gasch, it’s important for Zanzibar to set an example for other businesses in the area by showing support for the initiative.

“I think it sets a good example that things are changing, and society in general is making progress, even if it’s just one store at a time,” Gasch said.