Who has not been in the position of having to wait to use a single-occupancy bathroom while another sits unoccupied? The only difference between the unoccupied and the occupied restroom is the sign hanging on the door, designating one for males and the other for females. The people most often in this situation are female, according to the Illinois General Assembly.
To rectify that “inequitable situation,” the state legislature passed the Equitable Restrooms Act in 2019, requiring single-occupancy bathrooms be designated all gender or gender neutral in public buildings, restaurants and businesses. The law went into effect on the first of the following year, but people in Oak Park still find themselves having to choose between a little stick figure and a little stick figure with a skirt when going to the bathroom.
“It’s really silly not to comply with this law,” said Beth Streit, an Oak Park resident. “All you have to do is change the signs on the doors.”
Streit is not the only Oak Parker who feels this way; 54 people signed the open letter Streit wrote urging those who manage places with single-occupancy restrooms to comply with the act in the name of inclusivity. The letter was recently published in Wednesday Journal.
Sarah Corbin, another Oak Parker, helped Streit by gathering signatures on the letter to draw attention to the issue. She told Wednesday Journal she simply put out a request on a few Facebook groups and people volunteered to have their names added to the letter.
“People were extremely glad to sign on to encourage inclusiveness,” said Corbin.
Corbin didn’t even get the chance to include everyone’s name, as some people saw her request after she had already submitted the letter for publication.
Switching a sign on a door is easy, but not doing so contributes to more than just a bunch of women lining up, waiting for their turn to use the facilities. Having only male and female restrooms presumes there are only male and female people, leaving those who are gender fluid, non-binary and transgender to choose which bathroom to use.
“Transgender people may feel uncomfortable choosing a bathroom, particularly in a time of transition when it’s not clear where they are on their journey yet,” said Streit.
Corbin has personal experience with this, as a parent of a transgender child.
“I myself have a transgender child and know that the bathroom designation is a source of discomfort for them,” Corbin said.
Even for those who identify as male and female, the implication posed by gendered restrooms that one type of person does not belong in this area can be awkward and harmful, as well as being inconvenient.
For a mother and her young son or a father and his small daughter, a gender-neutral single-occupancy restroom provides a place of relief for the body. It also relieves the mind of any hesitancy or embarrassment that might arise from having to use a restroom that does not align with the parent and child’s different gender identities. This also applies to people who need assistance from others to do certain daily activities.
“I have an elderly uncle who needs a lot of help and his wife can’t go into the bathroom with him,” said Streit.
The purpose of the letter is merely to encourage compliance by raising awareness. If all people, regardless of gender, have the biological need to use the restroom, why not make restrooms inclusive for all people? It seems obvious but in a society that has operated a certain way for centuries, sometimes a reminder is needed.
“I really believe that the issue is one of awareness raising and not something that business owners are resistant to,” said Corbin.