“Today one must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.” — John Le Carré , The Russia House

A little while back I posted a message on our London Roundhouse blog. It was a copy of an e-mail that we sent to our team regarding one of the design/culture decisions we had made before we moved into The London Roundhouse. Last weekend we received an e-mail from a stranger who must be a fan of our LRH blog, but apparently not a fan of our “non-binary” washrooms. This e-mail (read it here) was also copied to the owners of the Roundhouse, one city councillor, London Mayor Matt Brown, eight Members of Provincial Parliament, and Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Normally I would have responded personally but I was certain that my business partner and our president, David Billson, would feel compelled to send his thoughts. I certainly could not have said it any better.

We believe in honouring our past; it’s one of the reasons we chose our current office space. We believe that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the past. We also know that there are some things better left in the past, that people need to evolve and embrace change, and that society needs to move forward. Apparently not everyone got that memo.

Below is David’s response to some of the points made in the email.


Hi,

Mr. Adamsson may have his own comments, but I would like to address a few comments specifically that I disagree with.

1) “Does it make sense to turn the world upside down (morally speaking) to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of a small percentage of the population?”

Firstly, I don’t believe the world has been turned upside down. We changed labels on a bathroom door.

Secondly, I don’t believe being transgender is an idiosyncrasy. It is a very complicated set of circumstances that have a massive impact on the lives of those living the experience, and those of their family and friends. To call it an idiosyncrasy is offensive to anyone who believes in the basic rights of being human.

Lastly, I believe an organization — be it a company, organization or country — should be measured by how they treat all members of their society, not just the privileged majority. As such, with the qualifications that I don’t agree with the definitions provided in your opening sentence, I would still say yes — it makes sense to turn the world upside down so that all members of society can feel welcome and appreciated in a space that we call our own.

2) Wouldn’t it make more sense to provide counselling to these people on an individual basis to help them resolve their problems associated with using public restrooms as these have traditionally existed?

No. Counselling would imply that there is something that needs to change. There is nothing wrong with these individuals, they are just different than you are — and that is okay. Just because something is traditional doesn’t always mean that it is good.

3) If given the choice, I expect that the average woman would choose a restroom with toilets only; while the average man the restroom with urinals. For the sake of a small percentage of the population, is it fair to make everyone else uncomfortable with the use of common restrooms for males and females?

I am not sure you’re qualified to speak on what the average man and average woman would want to do with regards to using bathrooms. Based on my experience, the average person cares about being able to use washrooms and that they are clean and available when needed.

Regarding your direct question about whether it’s fair to make everyone else uncomfortable (which I doubt they would be), see my third point under heading 1, but yes, I do.

4) What about the effect this has on children and youth? Aside from the potential psychological harm, is their safety at risk as well?

Our stalls are fully private and enclosed with separate doors. There is no risk to anyone. In fact, I would say our washroom structure is significantly safer to children. I will not let my boys attend an all-male washroom without accompaniment.

I don’t think there’s any psychological harm in having the freedom to pee on either side of a washroom complex.

5) One practical idea — where space and finances permit — is to have a third restroom (in addition to the usual men’s and women’s restrooms), which is specially designed for handicapped people (i.e., wheelchair accessible).

All of our stalls are handicapped accessible. And usable by either gender.

The challenge with having a “genderless” third washroom available is that you actually haven’t made the situation better for transgender individuals — you’ve made it worse. Instead of the challenge of choosing a washroom based on their presenting gender, or real gender, you’ve now relegated them to the washroom of “other people who don’t fit in.”

It’s a practical solution if you’re catering to the able majority, perhaps, but not if you’re looking to accommodate everyone and everyone.

6) However, this solution is not always feasible; consequently, we can do our best to lovingly help those who have gender identity problems overcome these as much as possible, but we won’t be helping them if we attempt to encourage such people to deny the reality of the existence of their problem (as, for example, by providing gender-neutral restrooms).

First, I don’t think transgender individuals have a problem as you’ve defined it. They have a reality that is different than your own. That does not make them any better or worse than you are.

I propose the opposite — for folks that are dealing with transgender challenges I think we should be the opposite — to create spaces and societies that can love, appreciate and embrace all forms of humanity regardless of gender, race, religion, social-economic background, etc.

My understanding is that it can be quite stressful for a transgender individual when it comes to bathroom selection. As such, we’ve simply removed this barrier to their enjoyment of our space.

7) In regard to fairness for the ladies in terms of the relative number of restroom fixtures as compared to men’s restrooms, one could eliminate one of the urinals for the men to make it equitable.

This sounds like you’re saying the issue is the number of available facilities per gender. The issues is not the number of toilets available. The issue is treating people as people, first.

8) However, considering that traditionally (based primarily on the fact that women are naturally gifted with the ability of bearing children and motherhood), the man is the provider (the “bread-winner”) for the family, the workforce ideally has men in the majority. This arrangement has a sound rationale and substantiates the provision of more fixtures in the restroom for men in this type of society.

I don’t even know where to start with this one except to suggest that you join us in the year 2015. The beautiful thing about our current society is that the choice to become a “breadwinner” or to raise children at home has increasingly become the realm of the decision within the family unit itself and not externalized by public perception.

The decision of what makes a good family needs to rest with the members of that family. As soon as society starts to define what makes a “good family” versus a bad one, we limit people’s value in our society and marginalize their experience. I do not believe it is within our rights as fellow humans to do that.

9) In our time society is increasingly drifting away from long-standing values and ways of living. I put to you that people are making a huge mistake by along with this trend, and especially in regard to a sexual identity issue closely related to the one described above; that is, the attempt to have society legitimise and accept homosexual relationships as normal (e.g., we are threatened with a major step in this direction by the pending United States Supreme Court decision on same-sex “marriage” expected in June 2015).

I disagree. I think we’re on a remarkable trend of appreciating that the human experience is not one defined by a common, shared sense of right vs wrong. Perhaps when we collectively understand that we’re all different, we can stop the never-ending cycle of violence and hatred that spreads from trying to enforce a particular set of values onto the unwilling masses.

I understand that change can be stressful. However, your response has only re-affirmed that we’re on the right choice with our process of making our world just a little bit more inclusive to everyone.


David Billson, President & CEO
Ellipsis Digital
(519) 438 9064 x 5155
www.ellipsis.digital

Note: blog updated to changed the term transgendered to transgender. Apologies for the error.

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