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Guidelines for all-gender bathrooms at conferences

All-gender or gender-inclusive bathrooms (sometimes called unisex bathrooms), hereafter referred to as “all-gender bathrooms,” are public bathrooms (or restrooms) that are not separated by gender. The presence of all-gender bathrooms in a conference venue is an equity and accessibility issue for our community. In particular, it makes our conferences more accessible to transgender and gender non-binary attendees.

However, the country, area, and venue for your conference will impact any advice which can be given. This means that the implementation of all-gender restrooms will be more of a possibility in some venues than in others. What we seek to do below is to propose a series of guidelines for implementing all-gender bathrooms, including what those bathrooms should have given the resources available, and how to go about doing so.

What does an all-gender bathroom look like?

In some public venues we see single-stall, so-called “unisex” bathrooms. All-gender bathrooms are inclusive of these, as well as single-gender multi-stall bathrooms that have been temporarily or permanently transformed to accommodate all genders. In a conference venue setting, this most frequently achieved by altering signage temporarily on a set of pre-arranged single-gender bathrooms. This signage should mark these bathrooms as all-gender as well as notify attendees of any other characteristics of the bathrooms, such as wheelchair accessibility or bathrooms that contain products for purchase for those that menstruate.

Implementing all-gender bathrooms

The person(s) responsible for working with the conference venue to implement all-gender bathrooms will vary from conference to conference. In some smaller conferences, it may make sense for a local arrangements chair to do so. In other conferences, it may make sense for an accessibility chair or a diversity and inclusion chair to be doing this work. In all cases, the person(s) responsible for implementing this should be chosen as soon as possible and should discuss the possibility of implementation with local venues at the earliest possible time (preferably before local arrangements are solidified). Once the conference venue has been chosen, the person(s) responsible should be present (physically or remotely) for a walkthrough of the venue to identify how many and which bathrooms can be converted from single-gender to all-gender. These bathrooms should be chosen based on the presence of features such as wheelchair accessible stalls and should take into account various needs of transgender and gender non-binary attendees with respect to location. Some all-gender bathrooms should be centrally located, or located close to where sessions and exhibitions are. There should also be all-gender bathrooms that are located in lower-traffic environments of the conference venue, as these locations can better address potential privacy or disclosure concerns for our transgender and gender non-binary community members. If bathrooms are paired (i.e. a male and female bathroom next to each other), both bathrooms should be made into all-gender bathrooms whenever possible. Prior work to include all-gender bathrooms at SIGCHI conferences has shown that when only one of the paired bathrooms is converted to all-gender, both bathrooms essentially remain gendered because the binary male/female bathroom is assumed (i.e. this was seen at CHI 2018 in Montreal). The number of all-gender bathrooms will vary depending on the size of the conference venue and number of attendees. Where a conference has decided to implement all-gender bathrooms, then at a minimum, there should be one accessible all-gender multi-stall bathroom per floor of the conference venue being occupied.

Preparing for the conference

All-gender bathrooms should be clearly marked on all maps for the conference and included in the conference program. Signage should be designed ahead of time and cleared with venue owners and staff. The signage should identify that the bathroom is all-gender, include accessibility features of the bathroom (e.g. stalls that can accommodate wheelchairs), and identify if the bathroom contains products for those who menstruate (e.g. tampons and pads). Whenever possible, the signage should also retain any sort of Braille present on original signage for visually-impaired attendees. In the case that all-gender bathrooms are not possible, that reasoning should be made explicit in conference communication to attendees.

It is important that the conference leaders have clearly communicated and agreed their intentions around all-gender bathrooms with the owners of the conference venue. There may be local laws, rules and venue policies which conference leaders need to ensure the conference venue owners are aware of when preparing for all-gender bathrooms at a conference.

During the conference

During the conference, the person(s) responsible should visit all-gender bathrooms whenever possible to be certain that signage is still visible, and when necessary replace signage. In the past, SIGCHI conferences have had issues with signs being removed, including by conference venue staff themselves. This is why it’s important to communicate with the conference venue as early as possible about the all-gender bathroom plans so they can prepare their staff accordingly. The person(s) responsible should also coordinate with other high-visibility information sources (e.g. student volunteer chairs) to make sure that information about all-gender bathrooms is accessible in as many ways as possible. Being open and welcoming to feedback on issues such as all-gender bathrooms during the conference will also help in supporting the evolution and prioritization of these and other spaces that serve our transgender and gender non-binary community members.

August 2018
Thanks to Jean Hardy for writing these guidelines, with additional input by Oliver Haimson, Caitie Lustig, Nazanin Andalibi, and Lindsay Blackwell. Thanks to Allison Druin (SIGCHI Adjunct Chair for Inclusion) and Aaron Quigley (ACM SIGCHI Vice President for Conferences) for their input and help making these guidelines publicly accessible.

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