Fredericton Pride unveils gender-neutral bathroom guide amid safety concerns

Nicki Lyons-MacFarlane says she knows people who won't use public washrooms because they don't know 'where they can go safely.' (Submitted by Nicki Lyons-MacFarlane - image credit)
Nicki Lyons-MacFarlane says she knows people who won't use public washrooms because they don't know 'where they can go safely.' (Submitted by Nicki Lyons-MacFarlane - image credit)

Nicki Lyons-MacFarlane is used to getting strange looks and even harassment in public washrooms, sometimes leading them to avoid going to the bathroom in public altogether.

For trans, non-binary and gender-diverse people, Lyons-MacFarlane said, just trying to use a public washroom can be an uncomfortable — and sometimes unsafe — experience.

Lyons-MacFarlane spoke to CBC News last year about being harassed in a women's bathroom at Costco, where no gender-neutral option was available. And that wasn't the last time — they said it happened again just a week ago.

"There's always a fear when you walk into a bathroom, is someone going to say something? Is there going to be a verbal confrontation, even a physical confrontation?" Lyons-MacFarlane said. "Bathrooms have not felt safe in so long."

This is something many gender-diverse people have "at the forefront of their mind" while out in public, Lyons-MacFarlane said.

It's an issue Fredericton Pride is hoping to address with a new gender-neutral washroom index.

Jenna Lyn Albert is a board member for Fredericton Pride
Jenna Lyn Albert is a board member for Fredericton Pride

Fredericton Pride interim chair Jenna Lyn Albert said the resource will list businesses that offer a gender-neutral washroom. (Lacey Little)

Interim chair Jenna Lyn Albert said the resource, available on social media, lists businesses that offer a gender-neutral washroom and also includes information about whether the washroom is accessible and has a changing table.

"Some people think it's this far out concept that's so strange but in all of our homes we have a gender-inclusive washroom ... so it's something that everyone is already familiar with," Albert said.

Part of Fredericton Pride's new gender-neutral washroom index, available online on its social media feeds.
Part of Fredericton Pride's new gender-neutral washroom index, available online on its social media feeds.

Part of Fredericton Pride's new gender-neutral washroom index, available online on its social media feeds. (Submitted by Fredericton Pride)

"When we're forced into gendered washrooms, you can run into encounters that are violent, involving harassment verbally, and it can be really uncomfortable, so it's primarily for safety. But also to affirm our gender identity."

Lyons-MacFarlane welcomes the index and plans to use it when they're out in public.

"I'm always kind of weighing the — 'Do I go, do I not go?'" they said.

"I know a lot of folks don't even go to the washroom when they're in public because they don't know where they can go safely. So having this sort of index will allow folks ... to go to a place that's safe."

Tori Buchanan
Tori Buchanan

Tori Buchanan (Submitted by Tori Buchanan)

Tori Buchanan is co-owner of The Feel Good, a brunch restaurant on Fredericton's north side that's listed on the index.

Having moved to New Brunswick from Toronto, Buchanan said having gender-neutral washrooms felt like a natural thing to do.

"We took over the space and it was a previous restaurant, and they had a male, female, you know, two different washrooms. For me, I just think that's so far outdated. Not inclusive at all," she said in an interview.

Buchanan said it required some thought to decide how to label the bathrooms, but she ultimately settled on "single stall, for the shy type," and "two stalls, shared washroom," which has largely worked well for the restaurant.

Door signs for gender-neutral washrooms at The Feel Good, a brunch restaurant on Fredericton's north side.
Door signs for gender-neutral washrooms at The Feel Good, a brunch restaurant on Fredericton's north side.

Door signs for gender-neutral washrooms at The Feel Good, a brunch restaurant on Fredericton's north side. (Submitted by Tori Buchanan)

"I think having people aware that we are an open, safe space for everybody is our overall target," she said. "I think as a society, as a whole, that we just kind of need to keep moving with that positive, inclusive space."

Albert said the index will be updated over time with more locations across the city.