By Jackson Cofer and Elias Gross
There is a new campaign in town to raise awareness on a subject that no one really wants to talk about: bathrooms. Under the auspices of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), Jackson Cofer, Elias Gross and a handful of concerned activists have banded together to form a Safe to Pee campaign for Lexington. Starting with the vision of access to safe bathrooms for all people, the campaign is focused on those who do not conform to traditional gender roles, the different-abled, and those in non-traditional families.
We are researching building codes to create an informed checklist to assess the conditions of bathrooms in Lexington. We plan to dispatch teams with our checklists and our vision to collect data on safe bathrooms starting in the downtown area.
We will meet with business owners to discuss our findings and reward those who care about our mission. Single stall restrooms will be fitted with gender-free signs created by local artists and all businesses will have the opportunity to display stickers we have created to identify their commitment to having safe, accessible, and accommodating restrooms for all.
We care about this issue because we have stories that we are sick of hearing repeated. Jackson’s story goes a little like this:
“It was opening night at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and I was there to celebrate the new location of this beloved pool hall. It bustled with new and old friends and I milled around with my PBR, taking in the vastness of the renovated warehouse space. It soon was clear to me that the seal needed to be broken and I wandered with my friend, Dale to where the bathrooms were. Now, at the old Buster’s there were two doors. I can’t recall if they were marked in any way but they were single-stall and I clearly remember using both depending on which one had a shorter line.
The new Buster’s is a different story. To accommodate the larger capacity, the owners created multiple stall restrooms. The doors were clearly marked and featured the time-worn line that poured from the women’s side while men darted in and out of theirs.
I stood and contemplated. I had been going by my chosen name of “Jack” and had been binding to pass as male for nearly a year. Being new at this, it did not always occur to me to locate accommodating restrooms in advance. I gambled on men’s rooms having a stall with a door that actually shut and locked. My friend went in and came back with grim news. The men’s room was a free-for-all with zero privacy.
I considered using the women’s room in hopes that most of the folks in there would know me but then began to sort through the “tranny harassment” file in my mind. The case of the transman who used a women’s room and was beaten within an inch of his life upon exiting the stall by one woman’s boyfriend who was in the restroom at the same time… the trans woman who didn’t pass well enough in the women’s room, was arrested and forced to register as a sex-offender. That it could be illegal for me to use either public restroom was not lost on me as I opted for the parking lot.
Squatting in the corner of the Buster’s parking lot, slightly buzzed with my pants around my ankles I got to thinking…why must I choose public urination and risk injury, arrest, and harassment simply because I, like everyone else, must answer the call of nature every once in a while?”
In talking to our friends about bathroom safety, we heard more stories of bathroom struggle. “Sometimes when I am with my brother, Paul, he needs help using the restroom,” said Mel Lesch, UK alumnus and co-founder of UK’s LGBT resource center, the OUTsource. “As someone with down syndrome, he has low muscle mass and can’t always reach everything. I cannot help him in single gender restrooms even though I am helping him as a sibling.”
Likewise, Tim Buckingham, staff member of KFTC, expressed his discomfort in some ”family friendly” businesses. “My daughter, Joleigh, was 6 months old and having stomach troubles. I had her on the table in the restroom and was working her legs to relieve some of her stomach pain. A guy walked in, made some smart ass comment about how this was the men’s room and then left.”
Understandably, it is not the fault of the establishment for one patron to make an ignorant comment to another. But who’s fault is it when patrons get assaulted for choosing the “wrong” restroom? Is it the responsibility of the business owner to create a safe space for all of their customers? We think so.
At press time, the safe bathrooms database Safe2Pee.org listed only one business with single-stall bathrooms safe for all genders in Lexington. The bathrooms, located at 3rd Street Stuff, are the only correct and current listing on the site (Beer Trappe anyone?). These restrooms are appreciated and valued but not sufficient in a city of over 270,000.
We, the frustrated, know we are not alone. We cannot change this reality without your support. We need folks to gather support via petitions and folks to fill out our teams to collect data. We need those who can emphasize with our stories and those who have their own.
The next planning meeting for the Safe2Pee campaign will be Saturday, November 6 from 3-5 P.M., site tba. Send an email to Jackson Cofer at firstname.lastname@example.org to get plugged into our campaign to make Lexington a safer place to pee for everyone.