Walk into Common Market in Plaza Midwood and you’ll find the eclectic deli/coffee shop/bar decked with local art, quirky bumper stickers and Christmas lights. And across from the cashier, flanked on either side by shelves of locally made honey and hot sauce, are two single-stall restrooms, each labeled with gender-neutral signs that read: “Whichever.”
Blake Barnes, the market’s owner, says the new signage was added as a response to North Carolina’s controversial new House Bill 2, which requires transgender people in government facilities to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate.
Even before HB2, private businesses could implement their own bathroom policies. Still, as the federal and state government spar in court over the new law, several establishments in the Charlotte area are adding gender-neutral facilities – some, just to communicate to customers where they stand on non-discrimination issues.
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“People are saying ‘Hey, we want to provide a welcoming environment where everybody feels like they can come in and spend money.’ Because all money is the same color,” said Matt Hirschy, director of advancement at Equality NC.
Across the U.S., bars and restaurants have been adding their own gender-neutral bathrooms as part of a larger shift toward offering more accommodation for caregivers, parents with children and transgender people.
For some establishments, especially smaller ones, the bathroom changes come in the form of new signage. Others take on the costlier task of building a new single-stall restroom. And others like Target are simply telling customers they are welcome to use the facility that aligns with their gender identity.
To be sure, not everyone agrees with businesses’ LGBT-friendly bathroom policies. The American Family Association, for example, called for a boycott of Target, citing safety concerns over protecting women and children from sexual predators.
Changes in Plaza Midwood
The Plaza Midwood neighborhood has been a hot spot for the changes.
In response to HB2, Whiskey Warehouse, which shares a parking lot with the Common Market, will be adding gender-neutral signage to its upstairs bathrooms, which are single-stall, said general manager Kayla Sirmans. The downstairs bathrooms, which are multi-stall, will remain labeled for men and women.
“As a neighborhood bar ... we didn’t want to exclude anyone from coming into our establishment to enjoy themselves. We didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable, left out or discriminated against for any reason,” Sirmans said.
HB2, passed March 23, struck down Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance that made sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories citywide. Just before that passed, Pure Pizza in Plaza Midwood made its bathrooms gender neutral, a move that sparked national attention from outlets like Business Insider and USAToday.
“Sometimes gender-specific toilets put others into uncomfortable situations,” owner Juli Metcalf Ghazi posted in a note on the single-stall facilities. Her note lists LGBT people, single fathers with daughters, single mothers with sons, parents with disabled children and adults with aging parents who may be mentally or physically disabled as the people who benefit from gender-neutral restrooms.
‘It’s about time’
In Davidson, Summit Coffee just finished renovating its single-stall restrooms and making them gender neutral. It’s something the coffee shop had planned to do regardless of HB2 because it makes the most sense, said Lilly Wilson, director of operations.
“It was a little bit silly if you look and see a line for one bathroom and no wait at the other one,” Wilson said. “We haven’t gotten much direct feedback other than people saying, ‘It’s about time.’ ”
Summit made the signage changes to its shops in Davidson and Cornelius, Wilson said. It hasn’t done so at its Davidson College location since those facilities are multi-stall, “But we’ve talked about trying to change that as well,” she added.
And in uptown Charlotte, the Westin is in the process of building a gender-neutral restroom on its second floor near the ballroom. The hotel’s manager, Guntram Merl, said different family needs and the transgender community were taken into consideration for the new facility.
“We saw the need for something like this way before (House Bill 2). It just coincided with what was going on, that’s why it became a little more of a focal point,” Merl said.
Area businesses like the Common Market that are making bathroom gender neutrality the norm still tell customers to heed common courtesy, like putting the toilet seat down, and remind patrons that only one person is allowed in at a time.
Barnes, the market’s owner, said restrooms there were already basically gender-neutral because they were labeled with “XX” and “XY” chromosomes, but few people seemed to know which was meant for whom, so patrons just used whichever bathroom was open. Now that the signage clearly indicates gender neutrality, Barnes said, nobody has said much.
The opinions about bathroom rules seem to differ by age, Barnes said. The only pushback to the signage change was from an older woman who said she liked her privacy – but Barnes said he reminded her Common Market’s restrooms are single-stall.
“Most of my customer base,” he said, “could honestly care less.”