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Not quite a relief

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WORLD Radio - Not quite a relief

New “all gender” bathroom concept at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is met with mixed reactions


An all-gender restroom in Seattle City Hall Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a new public restroom at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: But this restroom at Sea-Tac may not be what you expect. WORLD’s Juliana Chan Erikson explains.

JULIANA CHAN ERICKSON, REPORTER: OK, we’ve all been there. You’re about to board a flight, so you make a beeline for the airport restroom.

AUDIO: [Toilet flushing]

But if you duck into the Concourse D restroom at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you won’t see the traditional stick figures separating the men’s rooms from the women’s. Instead you’ll see a black and white outline of a toilet and a sign saying “all people and families may use this restroom.”

That’s the new multi-user all-gender restroom. It opened last month at Sea-Tac, and it’s one of about a handful of U.S. airports to debut such a design. Inside are ten floor-to-ceiling fully enclosed stalls, a set of urinals in the back obscured with frosted glass, and shared sinks up front. Perry Cooper, spokesperson for the Port of Seattle, says the airport prioritized making restrooms more accessible.

COOPER: It provides that opportunity for folks with a little bit different situations that they may have, whether it's everything from single moms to folks that may be traveling with the people who need some extra help like those who might be on the autism spectrum or, you know, cross gender situations.

That nod to 'cross-gender situations' concerns some people—and we’ll get to that in a moment—but others point to more practical reasons to support the model. Steve Soifer, founder and former president of the American Restroom Association, says the new approach will allow companies to save money on plumbing fixtures. Plus, women will be less likely to wait in long lines. And if it’s in a high traffic area, a gender-neutral restroom might be safer.

SOIFER: I personally believe it's the design of the future. And I think it's trendy now. The question is whether it will root itself in the culture.

But not everyone likes the idea. Julie Barrett says her 17 year old daughter was at Sea-Tac earlier this month, and like most travelers, she wanted to use the restroom before she boarded her flight.

BARRETT: I got a text from her saying that she went into the bathroom. And all these men were in the bathroom. And she couldn't believe it.

Frightened and not sure what to do, Barrett’s daughter ended up boarding the plane and using the bathroom onboard.

As president of the Conservative Ladies of Washington, Barrett says she’s worried these restrooms will allow people to prey on children traveling alone—like her daughter.

BARRETT: I think it puts women and children, children especially, at great risk for sexual predators. I think we're really opening the door for sexual predators to be able to have access to young children. Especially when you look at these unaccompanied minors traveling on their own, that really gives predators access to these kids that they absolutely should not have. And that's very scary.

Brad Payne is the Policy and Government Affairs Director for the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He’s also an ordained evangelical pastor, and he takes issue with the term “all-gender.”

PAYNE: I still hold to the old fashion, belief that there is just, you can, if you want to use the term gender, it’s okay. But there’s just two sexes, male and female.

He says it also feeds the myth that there are more than two genders, and that gender determines which restroom people should use.

PAYNE: I just think that, you know, intermingling idea is, again, it's just a very small, it's, in my mind, it's a very small step, a very small step, but it's one of those steps on that slippery slope that the more we can convince people that that there are multiple genders, and that, that we need to I guess, accommodate all of their specific requirements or their desires.

Sea-Tac still has single-sex restrooms alongside the new space. There are more than one-hundred twenty traditional restrooms in the airport and the nearest one is just a two minute walk away.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Juliana Chan Erikson.

BUTLER: Juliana Chan Erikson is WORLD’s marriage and family reporter. If you’d like to keep up to date on other stories like this one, sign-up for her weekly Relations newsletter at wng.org/relations.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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