Transgender, genderqueer and gender-nonconforming attendees will find something new at this year’s convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association: Organizers have designated two restrooms as gender neutral.
Attendees will find the gender-neutral restroom right as they step off the Tower Building elevators on the second floor of the Westin St. Francis at Union Square in San Francisco, where the majority of convention events will take place. The restroom is marked with signs, printed by the hotel staff, that feature male and female icons standing side by side.
For many transgender, genderqueer and gender-nonconforming people, searching for a restroom where they won’t be questioned or harassed can cause anxiety, and extended searching can cause physical discomfort.
Ina Fried, a former vice president of NLGJA and longtime convention attendee, said she is glad the organization prioritized securing a gender-neutral space.
“Having a restroom is somewhere we’ve lagged” in inclusiveness, Fried said.
She said gender-neutral bathrooms benefit not only those who need them, but also all attendees by signaling the importance of restroom safety in the LGBT community.
“This isn’t something that happens on its own,” Fried said. “It takes someone making it a priority, and I’m glad to see that somebody or many somebodies made it a priority this year.”
Convention coordinator Derrick Jones said the “Coming Home” theme of this year’s convention in San Francisco helped spark the idea to prioritize inclusive bathrooms when the NLGJA staff was discussing how to make attendees feel at home.
“The convention is as much about professional development and networking and education as it is a family reunion,” Jones said. “It’s about making sure that everyone — every member of the family — is comfortable.”
When NLGJA asked the Westin St. Francis whether restrooms could be converted to gender neutral, hotel representatives were willing to accommodate the request.
Elaine Clancy, director of sales and marketing for the Westin St. Francis, said this is the first request the hotel has had for a gender-neutral bathroom, but noted that staff are always willing to make arrangements in convention spaces for the groups they host.
“Anything that we can do within our capability to make the group feel comfortable, we’re going to do,” Clancy said.
At past NLGJA conventions, organizers would note spaces such as single-user bathrooms in case any attendees made a request for the space. But this year, NLGJA Executive Director Adam Pawlus said they finally thought to ask hotel representatives whether space could be converted and designated as gender neutral.
One NLGJA convention in the early 2000s did have a designated gender-neutral bathroom. That was at the insistence of the NLGJA board and the transgender task force, Fried said, but the practice did not continue.
In San Francisco, an ordinance explicitly gives people the right to use whichever bathroom is consistent with their gender identity and prohibits requiring people to verify their gender to use a public bathroom.
Fried said having the space at future conventions, regardless of location, is important.
“We aren’t always in San Francisco,” she said. “Someone who might be comfortable [using a traditional restroom] in San Francisco might not be if we are somewhere else in the country.”
Jones and Pawlus said NLGJA intends to keep gender-neutral restrooms a priority in years to come by adding it to the group’s needs list when meeting with hotel representatives about convention space. Arrangements have already been made to include gender-neutral bathrooms at NLGJA’s 2016 Convention in Miami.