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More companies should follow Target’s lead in providing trans bathrooms

'Everyone deserves to feel like they belong,' the company said.


Nico Lang

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 23, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 9:51 pm CDT

This week, Target announced that it would be taking a “stand for inclusivity.”

In a press release published to its website, the popular megastore announced that it would be allowing transgender staff members and customers to use the restroom that corresponds most closely with their gender identity. For instance, if a trans woman walks into a Target in her town, she would be permitted to use the women’s bathroom, rather than being forced into the men’s facilities.

“Everyone deserves to feel like they belong,” the company said. “And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target.”

The company’s announcement follows follows a spate of anti-LGBT legislation passed in states like Mississippi and North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 into law last month, a piece of legislation that effectively forces trans people in the state to use the restroom that matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

They’re not just patting themselves on the back. They’re taking action. 

As ThinkProgress’ Zack Ford reports, Mississippi’s recently passed “religious liberty bill,” known as House Bill 1523, allows employers to “manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.” The bill itself is a carte blanche allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT people based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Since HB 2 was passed, 160 companies have spoken out against the legislation, including top Silicon Valley firms like Apple, Microsoft, and Google. In a statement, the Google CEO Tim Cook declared its commitment to diversity. “Our future as Americans should be focused on inclusion and prosperity, and not discrimination and division,” Apple said in a release issued to the Charlotte Observer’s Katie Peralta. “We were disappointed to see Gov. McCrory sign this legislation.”

These statements do serve a symbolic power in opposing discrimination, likely killing a proposed anti-LGBT bill in Georgia that would have been similar to the one passed in Mississippi.

Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill after Disney and Marvel claimed the legislation would threaten future business in the state, which is known as the “Hollywood of the South” for its status as a popular shooting location. What these companies have rarely done, however, is state what they are currently doing to ensure nondiscrimination in their own workplaces or stores.

That’s precisely what makes Target’s stance on the issue so refreshing: They’re not just patting themselves on the back. They’re taking action.

Target isn’t the first company to offer an inclusive bathroom environment for customers and staff. In March, a sign posted at Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain, went viral. At a location in Athens, Georgia, managers posted a short explanation of why the grocery store has a gender-neutral bathroom.

“We have a unisex bathroom because sometimes gender-specific toilets put others into uncomfortable situations,” the sign read. “And since we have a lot of friends coming to see us, we want provide a place for our friends who are: dads with daughters, moms with sons, parents with disabled children, those in the LGBTQ community, [and] adults with aging parents who may be mentally or physically disabled.”

Facebook user Tonya Owens posted a photo of the sign to her personal account, congratulating the chain. “Nice job, Kroger,” she wrote. That post was liked more than 95,000 times and shared more than 125,000 times.

It’s incredibly important that companies set a positive example for other businesses, precisely because so many states lack trans bathroom protections. 

That viral bait can be an incredibly powerful force: It can not only generate good will toward companies that are providing inclusive spaces for LGBT customers, but also help inform policy. When businesses see Kroger applauded for doing the right thing, they are more likely to follow by doing the same.

For instance, when Erica Lachowitz, who works as an IT project manager for ASSA ABLOY Entrance Systems, a door company in Charlotte, North Carolina, came out in her workplace, her bosses took leadership on the issue. Lachowitz told the Daily Dot that they called a company-wide meeting to educate their employees on respect and diversity in the workplace. In the meeting, her superiors affirmed that any transgender member of their staff would be allowed to use the restroom of their choice. Anyone who has an issue with that, they joked, could use a porta-potty outside.

It’s incredibly important that companies set a positive example for other businesses, precisely because so many states lack trans bathroom protections.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only 18 states in the U.S. (and the District of Columbia) have nondiscrimination laws on the books that include both sexual orientation and gender identity. These provide equal access in all public accommodations, which include restaurants, bars, city parks, and public restrooms. Although few states have passed laws that codify discrimination against trans people, the case of North Carolina is the norm across the country.

It’s not the exception, it’s the rule.

In the Tar Heel State, developers have released applications that help trans people locate a safe public bathroom. Emily Waggoner, a former North Carolina resident, released the Safe Bathrooms map in March. According to CNN, the Google Maps extension “has pins, in the shape of toilet rolls, on businesses in North Carolina that have stated publicly that their bathrooms are safe for trans and gender nonconforming people.

Waggoner’s map, however, remains sadly sparse, and the same is likely true in states across the country. Trans people in states like Kentucky, Kansas, Oklahoma, or Ohio may have little idea where it’s OK for them to use the bathroom. Although Starbucks has gender-neutral unisex restrooms in all of its locations, there are only a handful of locations of the popular coffee chain Jackson, Mississippi within the city limits. Were companies like Walmart, Kmart, Home Depot, RadioShack, and Walgreens to publicize their bathroom policies, it would make a huge difference for transgender folks who might otherwise have few resources.

In the wake of Target’s commitment to trans inclusion, it’s time for other businesses to follow suit. While making a public statement on Facebook can be powerful, it’s even more crucial for make a statement on the ground.

Nico Lang is a Meryl Streep enthusiast, critic, and essayist. You can read his work on Salon, Rolling Stone, and the Guardian. He’s also the author of “The Young People Who Traverse Dimensions” and the co-editor of the bestsellingBOYSanthology series. Follow him on Twitter @Nico_Lang.

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*First Published: Apr 23, 2016, 8:00 am CDT