In March 2016, Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina signed House Bill 2, which required that individuals use the restrooms that corresponded to the gender they were assigned at birth, spurring a national discussion about gender and restroom usage.
Democrats and progressives argue that the bill in effect discriminates against transgender individuals who wish to use the restroom they believe accurate reflects their gender, while conservatives have focused on the potential threat of supposed “assault” if anyone were allowed to use any restroom.
In recent years, many institutions have modified their restrooms to be gender neutral, allowing any and all genders to use them. Several bathroom signs at institutions like Brown and RISD have removed people from their signs entirely.
New signage for gender neutral restrooms range from traditionally gendered representations of both men and women on one sign, which some have criticized as excluding non-binary individuals, to signs that welcome all gender identities through having one universal figure.
Inside the bathroom, progressives claim they are fighting for the comfort and safety of trans individuals, where conservatives counter that they are trying to protect the safety women and children.
Despite the fears held by McCrory and the legislators responsible for HB2, communities with nondiscrimination laws protecting gender inclusive bathrooms do not see higher levels of sexual violence whatsoever.
At Brown and RISD, resistance to gender inclusive restrooms has ranged from formal votes on bathrooms’ designation to the vandalizing of restroom signs. This sign in particular from the second floor of Jameson-Mead, a first-year dorm at Brown, has seen multiple attempts to gender the women’s restroom sign.
The debate over the social construction of gender and its importance for trans rights is likely to be a topic of enduring and contentious conversation as our law and society continue to evolve towards a clearer understanding of gender and sex.
Photo Essay by Christopher Wong and Tatiana Florival