At the Town Hall Meeting a couple Sundays ago, the topic of bathrooms came up again. It’s a topic we have been wandering around now for a couple years. How do we take this building, with it’s split floors and ADA inaccessible multi-stall bathrooms and, and make it something that is inclusive to everyone. While, you know, not spending money.
It’s a hard question. It’s a difficult question. It’s a question for committees, and then the board, and then the congregation. But I wanted to share here, with y’all, a conversation that I had this weekend in Lenexa, Kansas, with a young trans man.
This weekend I traveled with a group of our youth to a regional Youth Assembly at SMUUCh. It was joyous. The topic for the conference with LGBT+ activism.
These were not just our youth. This was youth from five congregations across Kansas and Missouri. (All Souls, SMUUCh, First UU of Springfield, Columbia, and Selina.) The total headcount was 30 youth and 8 advisors. The church was a whirlwind of activity from 7 pm Friday until 9:30 am Sunday.
Because of the topic of the Youth Assembly, and the nature of UU churches youth programs these days, the youth had a strong standing of LGBT+ representation. I’d say 30-50% of the kids were LGBT+. This led to constant stream of conversation about LGBT+ issues from the youth, with us old advisors sitting around, mainly just listening.
The topic of bullying and high school and bathrooms came up. In the small circle I was in there were several transbinary and transnonbinary youth. And they began, organically, sharing their stories about finding a place to pee.
To zoom out a minute… Bathroom accessibility is a fundamental battleground in trans rights. Being able to pee, knowing you are safe to pee in public, is a basic human right that many people currently do not have.
In recent polls, 32% of trans folks report that they have limited the amount they ate or drank in public so that they wouldn’t have to use an unsafe restroom. 8% of trans folks report KIDNEY ISSUES because they don’t use public restrooms because of safety concerns.
So here I am, and I know that. But these kids are talking about their real lived daily experiences.
I’m in a conversation with this young man. Trans. 15? 16? Very masculine presenting. Binds, passes as an adolescent boy.
And he tells me, tells the group, his strategy for using the restroom. He doesn’t hold back on going pee at school. He can’t. He is at school all day. There are no gender neutral or single stall restrooms. He has to pee. And he clearly doesn’t belong in the women’s restroom. So he uses the men’s room. Where he belongs.
But he doesn’t wash his hands. He goes in, head down, uses the stall as quickly as possible, walks out, without washing his hands.
He says the mirrors, where other people can see your face, are the worst part. The part that feel the most dangerous.
He keeps hand sanitizer on a zipper pull on his backpack. As soon as he is out of the restroom he uses copious amounts. He always makes sure he has hand sanitizer.
He is not complaining, as he tells us this. He’s somewhat proud that he has an out from the worst part. It honestly sounds like the hand sanitizer is comforting. Like he has found a way to opt out of part of the risk.
I don’t tell him that hand sanitizer doesn’t kill MRSA and other bacteria. I listen, I nod. Other youth share their stories. How they try real hard not to use the restroom in public, or how they go to the nurse’s office to pee once in the middle of the day.
At the church we were at there are binary restrooms. Mens/Boys and Womens/Girls. It is an old building, and it is clear the signage is from when the building was a school, years ago. However, there was also signage under each old sign declaring where the gender neutral restrooms were, and that nobody better give anyone else hassle about which bathroom they selected.
The best restrooms in the place are gender neutral bathrooms that are single stall. One is just outside the sanctuary, a beautiful remodeled freshly tiled single stall gender neutral restroom. If you are in worship service and need to pee, this is where you go. Regardless of who you are.
All weekend, everyone in the building got to pee where they wanted. The young trans men and trans women walked into the binary restrooms shoulders back. Comfortable. The nonbinary youth used the gender neutral restrooms. Over the weekend I saw several youth who actively smiled, grinned, as they walked in the restroom. It was part of the pleasure they had in coming to the UU church, to this big messy assembly. They knew they were safe, among these peers. The bathrooms told them they were welcomed.
I don’t have solutions for how to make our building accessible. I have ideas, but like I said at the start, this is a matter of committees, board, and ultimately congregation. But I can’t shake the image of this young man each day at school, head down, hustling out of the bathroom, past the sinks, because the simple human dignity of washing his hands is just too scary.
And I can’t shake the memory of the same young man, smiling, as he walked into a restroom that he knew was safe.
*This Homily was first presented at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Springfield. A recording is available on Youtube.