How to ruin gender inclusive bathrooms

In 2016, NYC Mayor De Blasio signed the great Executive Order No 16 that mandates city facilities to provide bathroom access to people consistent with gender identity. Hurray, a huge step towards gender inclusivity and tolerance!

Last week I went skating at Brooklyn Bridge Park and I got shocked. Yes the NYC Park bathroom facility now has a new sign saying anyone can decide to use the bathroom that would fit their gender or gender expression. Great, awesome, perfect. But — because there is a but, and it ruins everything — the second part of the sign says:

NYC Parks “gender inclusive” bathroom sign
“Any person who abuses this policy in order to assault, harass, intimidate, or otherwise interfere with an individual’s rights will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

WTF. What did I just read.

A few things race in my head:

  1. How come using the bathroom I feel more comfortable with should be linked with a thought of harassment and violence?
  2. How come trans people are associated to harassment and violence, even if it is initially to target the people who would harass them?
  3. Well if I was susceptible to harass someone I now got a great idea in my head and a great location to do it. Thanks NYC Parks.
  4. Anyway, isn’t just the case anywhere that harassing people should be punished by the law? Not just here, in the bathroom. Why mixing everything together here where gender expression is tainted with violence…

Well, FYI, I did not use the bathroom facility as I instantly did not feel safe. Big fail NYC Parks and NYC Human Rights.

I am convinced there are better solutions to implement the Executive Order No 16 where trans and non-binary people can use the bathroom they want.

I can think of solutions where all bathrooms are non-binary. This is an assumption worth testing. I don’t claim to know how to solve this. I am just a UX Designer and a Design Thinking Workshop facilitator so when I feel something is wrong, I always go to solution solving mode, and prototype.

I can think of a workshop prototype to test at the MoMa or at a school: for a day, just a day, change all the bathrooms to non-binary bathrooms and observe. See how people react, interview them, learn.

Maybe the second iteration would be to have one bathroom for men, one for women and one non-binary. Again: observe, interview, learn.

I mean, did anyone conduct some usability testings with this sign?

Testings with some users of the NYC Parks? With some trans and non-binary folx? I am genuinely curious to know how this whole sign project happened. I can imagine the great meetings where a bunch of persons sat around the table and were excited (I hope they were) about changing the bathroom signs to be more inclusive.

— “Yes, we should say that anyone can use whatever bathroom they want.”

— “Hum… yeah but what about the risk of agressions?”

— “What you mean trans people assaulting regular* people?” (*I don’t know if they use the term cis-male and cis-female during those meetings)

— “Well, actually, the states that have laws prohibiting gender identity discrimination in public accommodations have reported zero bathroom attacks…”

— “Oh right. Hmm… Then, what should we do?”

— “I don’t know? What if we just mention that it is bad to harass people.”

— “Yeah, right. Let’s do this.”

Clap 👏 Clap 👏 Clap 👏

I know we can do better.

This is obviously a huge step toward a more inclusive world. Kuddos. But I still can’t stop feeling a bit sick when I look at this sign.

Honestly, just keeping the first part of the sign would have been better. Really.


I am more and more driven to build a Design Thinking Workshop to help facilities (museums, schools, parks, public spaces, companies…) to figure out how to get better at gender inclusivity (bathrooms, pronouns, preferred name (customers and employees…)). I get angry when I see things that could be done better. And when I get angry that means I care and I can do better. 💪

What you all feel about this sign? Am I the only one to be sensitive to this good intention ruined by its execution?

EDIT: One quick fix? Buy 2 locks. Put them directly on the outside doors of each gendered bathrooms. Put 2 new signs “Gender Neutral Restroom”.
Bam. It costs 2 locks, 1h of a NYC Parks employee and it would cost less than the creation, printing and installation of those insensitive gendered signs.