Yelp Tracks Gender-Neutral Bathrooms for Transgender Users
Yelp, the crowdsourced website that offers reviews of everything from restaurants to stores to churches, is adding a new way to filter its results: by the availability of gender-neutral bathrooms.
The new feature was announced on Friday, just one week after it was proposed, and represents Yelp’s latest foray into the fight for transgender rights. On Thursday, the company joined dozens of others, including Amazon, Gap, Intel and Yahoo, in signing on to a Supreme Court brief on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy seeking the right to use school bathrooms that correspond to his gender identity.
“This isn’t the first time that we’ve spoken out about social issues, but this is the first time that we have married doing something on our platform around the social justice support of the L.G.B.T.Q. community,” said Rachel Williams, who leads the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
The gender-neutral bathroom filter is aimed at helping people who are transgender, who often report facing challenges in finding safe and suitable bathrooms to use.
In its 2015 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, an advocacy group, interviewed about 1,600 transgender students and reported that 70 percent had reported avoiding school bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
For now, Yelp is inviting users and business owners to identify establishments that offer locking, single-stall bathrooms that are available to individuals of any gender, with plans in the coming weeks to let users filter results based on that data, once enough is collected.
The idea was first proposed by the mother of an employee. The employee then passed it along to the company on Feb. 24, days after President Trump rescinded Obama-era protections that had allowed transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
Motivated in part by that decision, Yelp’s product team prioritized the feature, piecing it together in four to five days, with the announcement coming just one week after the idea was proposed, Ms. Williams said.
“This administration is moving pretty fast and so this happened, the Gavin Grimm case came up, and we wanted to capture the moment,” she said.
Yelp settled on the “gender-neutral” label — instead of alternatives such as “all-gender” or “gender-inclusive” — after consulting with the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights, and others, she said.
With its platform, the company may ultimately be able to assemble the largest directory of transgender-friendly bathrooms, but it is not the first to try.
Refuge Restrooms, an open-source directory, claims to have thousands of such entries. Another listing, Safe Bathrooms Club, was introduced last March in response to a North Carolina law passed that month that required transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificate.
That directory was created by Emily Waggoner and her male transgender partner River Luck, who are North Carolina natives who now live in Boston. Inspired by a series of photos of transgender-friendly businesses shared by a friend online, the pair decided to create Safe Bathrooms Club.
“We saw this via Instagram and thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to see those businesses on a map?’” said Ms. Waggoner, a user interface and user experience designer.
The directory addresses a problem Mr. Luck faced most acutely during his transition over the last several years. With his gender identity at times ambiguous as he underwent hormone therapy, he found himself thrust into what felt like uncomfortable and dangerous situations.
“On several occasions, we would have to leave where we were because it wasn’t safe for me to use the bathroom there, and that was terrifying,” he said.
While Yelp’s effort may overlap with theirs, Mr. Luck and Ms. Waggoner said they don’t feel threatened. “The more ways that people can find a safe bathroom, the better,” Ms. Waggoner said.