Sex, it turns out, is a fantastic distraction. While the majority of the country is caught up in the debate over transgender use of restrooms, let’s take a moment to remember the bathroom debates of 20 years ago. Specifically, gender parity and the growing need for family restrooms. Both needs came to the forefront as the result of societal changes that took root following the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Gender parity in restrooms essentially was the push to ensure an adequate number of facilities were available for either sex. This was needed because many buildings erected before women made up a significant segment of the workforce had fewer facilities for women. Women were fed up with waiting in long lines or having to “hold it” because wait times stole relief time. Many states, starting with California, enacted building codes requiring new construction to include 50 percent more stalls for women than men.
The family restroom movement also made headlines as families began to evolve as a result of women entering the workforce. More fathers took on the role of caretaker to their children, either full-time or as a shared responsibility. While hardly anyone batted an eye when a mother took her young son into a restroom with her while out in public, fathers with young daughters had to choose--take the daughter into the mens room, or trust another woman to take his daughter into a women’s room or send her in alone and hope all went well.
Sadly, the 1998 tragic story of Matthew Cecchi, the 9-year-old boy murdered in a public restroom in California while his aunt waited for him outside, brought intense attention to the growing movement to include family restrooms in public places at that time.
Most recently, as more adults find themselves in the sandwich generation, caring for mothers and fathers, or even husbands and wives, the need for safe, family restrooms continues to grow.
Safe, accessible public restrooms shouldn’t be an issue equated with sex as much as it should be equated with health. Access can mean the difference between health or infection. And the simple lack of it can mean the difference between a person being able to function and thrive in society or not. For instance, in Africa many adolescent girls simply drop out of school because there are often no restrooms available to girls in schools--something organizations like Rotary International and Unicef are beginning to focus on.
The debate over whether a transgender person should be allowed to use one restroom or another feels like distraction during an important election year. Shouldn’t we put this much focus on other issues? After all, the solution to the “problem” is already one that has been fought for and won. Requiring people to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate actually threatens to undo this solution. A family restroom is a gender-neutral bathroom, and likely, those who are transgender have been using them for quite some time. We just need more of them for everyone.