All-gender restroom sign

Tech for social good: Discovering safe gender-neutral restrooms

In Health Equity, Social Justice by Jackson Smith, MA3 Comments

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Recently we wrote a blog post about gender-neutral restroom signs that we have been distributing in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. We are very excited to have been able to find a local business, a community service, a cooperative, and a church that were interested in making a value-statement and commitment to be inclusive. To welcome individuals in our community whose gender identity deviates from the status quo.

gender-neutral restroom

Creating safe spaces is critical for challenging the physical and social structures that marginalize and traumatize. Safe spaces provide a reprieve from the constant imposition of a value system that causes those who are misaligned to suffer (often silently). Such social rejection can lead to profound impacts on peoples’ social and emotional wellbeing.

Creating safe spaces is important. But it is not enough. If you build it, they will not necessarily come.

The creation of the safe space must be coupled with awareness about the safe space; awareness about the existence of the space as well as testimony about whether the space is truly safe. The latter is especially necessary, as there are many well-intentioned attempts to create safe spaces, which sometimes end up creating more harm.

Knowing this reality, I got to thinking about the gender-neutral washroom signs that we have been distributing. I thought about how we should be raising awareness about those and that it would be great to get an anonymous poll of community members’ feelings of safety using the restroom in these establishments.

Before starting a new initiative to do this, I figured someone else must have had this idea before.

And I was right!

I discovered a fantastic community-based web and phone application that does this.

REFUGE restrooms indexes and maps safe restroom locations for trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals, as well as restrooms that are physically accessible.

Users can search for restrooms by proximity to a search location, add new restroom listings, as well as comment and rate existing listings.

Here are a couple of screen shots using the web-based application to search in Waterloo, ON:

Screen shot of refuge restroom search results list

(List view)

Screen shot of refuge restroom search results map

(Map view)

Calls to Action

If you are someone who can benefit from this application, please contribute by adding new listings and share your experiences through rating or commenting. Doing so will help others find a safe place to use a washroom.

If you are someone who can benefit from this app or know someone who could benefit, please share it, spread it through your networks.

Finally, if you’re a coder and are looking for a great project to contribute to, REFUGE restrooms is an open-source project that is maintained by a community of coders from around the world. Visit their GitHub to contribute:

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  • Jackson Smith, MA

    Title: Consultant, knowledge mobilization lead
    Content Expertise: Collaboration and partnership building, intercultural dialogue, knowledge mobilization, human rights


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