The Trump administration is considering a rollback of protections for transgender people under civil rights law. Those who want to limit trans people’s access to bathrooms say it’s a question of public safety. Others say restrictions are discriminatory.
Architect and Yale professor Joel Sanders says bathroom access has long been at the center of civil rights debates in the U.S. including the creation of ladies rooms when women entered the workforce, the fight to end race-segregated bathrooms, and the push for accessible restrooms that ultimately led to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sanders is part of a collaborative project called Stalled!, which addresses the design consequences of the transgender bathroom debate. He joined Connecticut Public Radio’s Diane Orson to talk about it. Here are highlights of the conversation:
On A Changing Vision of Public Restrooms
One of the things is to challenge the preconception that the binary bathroom as we know it is an historical inevitability. We’re coming up with alternative prototypes: what we call the multi-user facility. Right now the plumbing code legislates that there needs to be sex-segregated restrooms, and the single user restroom [can be] re-signed as ‘all gender.’ And while that’s a better solution than none, it still isolates and stigmatizes not only trans people, but what I’ve been calling noncompliant bodies or nonconforming bodies - people of different ages, genders, disabilities, and even religions who can’t mingle in public space.
The Key Is The Stall
I call [it] the American-style stall, which is a kind of flimsy partition, high off the ground with big gaps that compromises privacy. And what we’ve found that not only trans people, but a whole host of users want, is something that you find in Europe: privacy stalls that have doors that are tall enough to ensure privacy.
On Inclusive Public Spaces
The default user of architecture when we design has, for the most part, been a white, able–bodied, cisgender, secular, youthful person - and up until fairly recently was a man. So it really is an opportunity to raise awareness about the need for architects and designers to collaborate with lawyers, environmentalists, gender specialists, to create inclusive public spaces – restrooms are but one example – that really meet the needs of people who traditionally fall out of the cultural mainstream.