Friday, February 8, 2013

Gender Neutral Bathrooms and Public Prayer Discussed at Last Meeting

Sara Whittington, Lani Duke, Carolyn Manning, Barbara Jarrell, Maurice Loridan, Loren Demerath, Victoria Provenza first discussed the need to identify gender neutral bathrooms and encourage their proliferation.  The group then discussed the current public prayer customs in local government.


Sara Whittington is a Centenary student and member of the living-learning community “Node,” devoted to practicing social change through technology and design.  The website is the technology in this case, where people can type in a zip code and see the gender neutral bathrooms in the area.  The group is also working on a design for gender neutral bathrooms symbol that isn’t “binary,” i.e., that doesn’t imply one is either male or female, masculine or feminine.  Loren pointed out that research in biology, psychology, sociology and anthropology shows that gender is more complicated than that.  (Many cultures in the course of history have had a third gender, a variety of sexual orientations have been accepted as well.)

It was noted that progress in including people can go in fits and starts.  Carolyn recalled dance clubs back in Austin in the 80’s where the bathrooms were gender neutral.  

Maurice says he sees single stall unisex bathrooms, and asked if we’re talking new construction for larger bathrooms?  Loren said, not necessarily.  At Earlham College in Indiana in 1980, he seems to recall that his dorm just relabeled gender specific bathrooms to be unisex and the urinals simply went unused.  Carolyn said in some places they construct a partition for the urinal area. 

Still "binary" based, but gotta love the text!

At Colorado College's library
Sara said they’re starting on Centenary’s campus and have gotten funding for signage.  They’ve located 26 single stall bathrooms.  To the end of finding a suitable non-binary symbol they’ve created a pinterest account for reviewing images they’ve come across or developed.  While some noted that a binary symbol would suffice, Loren said it presents a design challenge that can be fulfilling to overcome for Node, and also its success would have the benefit of pushing people’s thinking.  He noted that politically correct language does the same thing: by using the term “First Year” instead of “Freshmen,” or “Police Officer” over “Policeman,” it makes it a little less likely that we think of those positions as necessarily occupied by men.  Loren said his daughter is a bit more likely to think of being a cop as a career option.  The same goes for “B.C.E.” (“Before Common Era”) rather than “B.C.” (“Before Christ”), or “C.E.” (“Common Era”) instead of “A.D.” (“anno Domini” -- “the year of our Lord”), preferred by many to acknowledge that not everyone’s Christian.

Doesn't matter what that placard is covering up, does it?

Along those lines, among the signs that were discussed, were “All Bodies Welcome,” and a circle with an arrow, cross, and equal sign (designed by Barbara Jarrell on the spot).  Others featured here are from the Node blog.

It was noted that the mayor has acquired funds to install bathrooms at Riverfront Park.  Perhaps he’d be willing to make one gender free.  Other locations were thought of: George’s Grill is single stalled, Pierre Bossier Mall in the food court, the All Souls Unitarian Church Office, Target and Walmart both have family bathrooms that could be converted with signage.  (It was noted that in such busy places, people object, saying that the priority should be for dealing with babies and accompanying children, but if they’re heavily used enough to cause those complaints, it shows a need for gender neutral bathrooms to be established in some way that doesn’t affect families negatively.)  Certainly, someone said, there are plenty of gas stations with single stall mens’ and womens’ that could be converted to just two unisex bathrooms.  It was countered that men tend to be less clean in theirs, though maybe they’d be cleaner if it was unisex.
(But no clue with the colors mean)

All of those subtleties to making progress aside, there is a need in Shreveport-Bossier to identifying single stall bathrooms that could be interpretted as unisex and therefore gender neutral, and enter them in  ABS folks are encouraged to email Loren with locations and he’d be happy to enter them.

Victoria, who teaches at Magnet High School, talked about students who have gender identification issues.  Could this raise awareness of gender ambiguities and increase resentment against those people?  Carolyn disagreed and said the child is likely already being bullied.  Barabar said if you just put up the signs unannounced, before any discussion, people may just accept it.

It was asked what the priority is for Node, and for us in ABS: having a bathroom or having a progressive symbols done first?  It was thought the former should be the priority.  It was noted that they used to have bathrooms for African Americans and European Americans here.


The group discussed public prayer in local government.  Loren said he’s been dismayed when prayers end “in Jesus’ name.”  

Lani noted there was a woman who’d objected to reindeer being displayed on public property, but others said many symbols can have religious associations without being actually religious.  

Loren mentioned the more inclusive endings used at President Obama’s recent inauguration: “In In Jesus’ name and all who are right and holy,” and simply, “In your name.”  Loren also mentioned how the Chaplain has ended invocations at Centenary, “In the name of all that we hold sacred.”  Barbara said at some Interfaith gatherings the leader will say: “take a moment to pray in your own tradition, after which I will pray in mine.”  She’s also heard, “Pray in the name of the one who loves us all.”


It was noted councilpersons would probably like to disagree with us on this and to win votes in their constituencies.  It would also give them free media time for their campaigns.

Loren asked if this amounted to a tyranny of the majority, then?  The response was that it was.  Loren said it was too bad, since it marks Shreveport as non-progressive and unwelcoming of diversity, and that won’t help a community grow, at least not this day in age.


On the positive side, Loren mentioned he’ll be interviewed next week for a story on smart growth, and discussed with the group what places he should suggest they visit with the reporter doing the story. Maurice noted we need to describe how residents living right near the retail at 70th and Youree can’t walk or bike there.  He described the retail spaces as islands floating in oceans of car-only terrain. Maurice said the places out past the grid neighborhoods of Highland and South Highland are where they really need bike-ped infrastructure.

Carolyn talked about the need for bike lanes downtown.  It was noted that the presence of bike racks is going to change the attitude downtown.  The head of Brookshires was grateful that Maurice told them to move it out so bikes can fit on both sides.

Addressing sprawl should be an issue in the interview.  Outer developments want our water and sewer services but the tax base doesn’t pay for itself.

It was noted an objective for the city should be to decrease rental and increase home ownership. There are programs such as HAPI that work to that end.  How to raise income levels is the issue, and to fix infrastructure is part of the key.  

Sprawl thins our resource budgets though.  Dara said that impact fees is what the developers should pay: a big chunk to compensate for the infrastructure improvements that their building are going to demand.

In Douglas County Colorado, Victoria mentioned, outside of Denver, they had to build all the infrastructure completely built before they gave the first housing permit.

The parish seems a step ahead of the city in terms of shaping a healthy built environment.  For example, last year, resolution 182012 in the parish required planning for a bike-ped plan.

Kathryn and Cynthia have each taken a turn graciously hosting our monthly social meetings at their respective houses, and this Monday will be Loren's turn.  He's at 115 Atkins Ave.  BYOB or nibbly, or just yourself!

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