When you’re trans*, or even when you just favor a look that doesn’t fit inside the strict gender binary, it can be a real struggle finding places in public where you can do your business in peace. Reactions can range from people asking if you’re in the right bathroom, to angry or confused glances, all the way to trans women being beaten just for trying to use the proper restroom. One option is just to schedule your entire day around running home every time you need to use a bathroom. However, this can cause just as many problems as it solves. The much better solution is to know where trans* and intersex friendly and gender neutral bathrooms are, and that’s exactly what the new website REFUGE Restrooms sets out to do.
When another site that served the same function, recently announced that they were disbanding, Teagan Widmer stepped in to fill the void. According to REFUGE Restroom’s site, they want to make sure that this important service continues to be met. This is a valuable resource and one that can literally save lives. Widmer described the site to me as a simple way to help people who otherwise might be afraid to use public restrooms.
REFUGE is a web application that indexes and maps unisex and other safe bathrooms for transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals. Users can search an address to find the nearest bathrooms to use. Bathroom listings can be filtered by accessibility and unisex (vs just a safe gendered bathroom). Users can also add to the ever growing database with more safe bathrooms.
If this is an issue that you personally have to deal with, than you already know how important it is to know where safe restrooms are. However, for many, this is an issue they may not even be aware of. Widmer is transgender herself and knows all too well how scary it can be trying to find a safe place to do something as simple as go to the bathroom. With the other resources for this falling out of functionality, she saw something that needed to be done and did it.
I made REFUGE because I saw a gap that needed to be filled. As many are aware there used to be a website called Safe2Pee that roughly did the same thing. I had often made use of the site, as well as an iOS application called TranSquat that used the Safe2Pee databased. When I updated my phone to iOS 7, I noticed that TranSquat was no longer available on the app store. I went to the Safe2Pee database and realized that it didn’t really work anymore either. I was pretty devastated. The site had saved my life multiple times when I was early in transition and too scared to use the women’s room and too afraid of assault in the men’s bathroom. I knew that the resource needed to be kept alive. I took the data dump from the Safe2Pee site and used it as the core that I built around for my new application.Bathroom usage is an important topic for transgender individuals because we often have fear surrounding entereing such gendered facilities. We have good reason to be afraid, too. I was reading an article this past week about a student from California State University, Long Beach who was attacked in a bathroom and had the word “it” carved onto their chest. Because of stories like this many trans people “hold it” until they can find a safe restroom, instead of using the bathroom immediately. This can do all kind of physical damage to the body and cause UTIs. Trans people need safe access to bathrooms, and my dream is that REFUGE can be a place that positively impacts the lives of transgender individuals.
The site is open source and we are are actively looking for help to finish developing it. I’ve only been programming for about six months and I taught myself how to do everything I needed to develop the application this far, so I am by no means an expert. I’m still learning every day how to write better, more effecient, cleaner code. This is a project that has a lot of room for growth and I want to make it clear: This is not my project — this is our project. This is a project the community needs. So if you know anything about front end, or Ruby on Rails, please get involved. You can find our project on GitHub. This is a project for which the sky is the limit. Help us get there!