Red Rainbows & Green Carnations: What are LGBT Symbols

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Through the years the LBGT movement has adopted a variety of symbols to represent and unite our community in the struggle for equality.  But is their meaning always clear?

The Rainbow 

The original eight colors were pink for sexuality, red for light, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for natural serenity, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.

Green Carnations

Originating in the Victorian era, green carnation lapels were used as a way for gay men to discretely identify one another. Awards like the Green Carnation Prize celebrate gay writers and the history of the symbol. 

 

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Lavender & Pink

“Since 1977, the pink triangle has been adopted by the LGBT community as a symbol of the fight against oppression and the work for acceptance.” Says the Carleton Gender and Sexuality Center.  Later, activists including ACT UP would continue to use the pink triangle and associate it with the chant “SILENCE=DEATH”

The Greek symbol lambda

The Lambda

The greek Lambda has been associated with some of the first prominent LGBT Activist groups since the early 1970’s. According to the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland “the lambda signifies unity under oppression” and is still used by the gay rights group Lambda Legal and the Lambda Literary Award

 

Delve more into the history and communities represented by lgbt symbols: http://www.swade.net/gallery/symbols.html#labrys

 

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Toilets, Gender and Liberation

By Alicia Izharuddin:

“Public toilets have not existed in their gendered form since time immemorial. They emerged alongside urbanisation, improved sanitation, and enforced privatisation of bodily functions in 19th century Europe. Since their inception, public toilets for women (introduced decades after the male-only facility) was subjected to fierce objection. Ideas of women relieving themselves in small ʻrest roomsʼ outside the confines of their homes (where they should be) was shocking and morally transgressive.”

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“Transgress the laws of the  gender divisions, and you could face violent repercussions. Trans* people and butch women have all faced the aggressive force of gender policing in public toilets. Homophobic attacks against gay men or men suspected as gay in public toilets are also rife. What is considered a ʻpublic convenienceʼ for all can turn out to be an oppressive menace to those who do not conform to mainstream gender and sexual identities. Public toilets are therefore sites of gender and sexual privilege.”

Why do we care about gender neutral restrooms? Equity is at the heart of it all:

http://www.thestate.ae/mapping-gender-in-public-toilets-of-the-non-western-world

Why Gender Neutral Bathrooms Should Matter To You.

 

“…when they willfully ignore the concerns of LGBT people,

they not only limit opportunities for these individuals, but

also stifle our community as a whole. In the end, it is the

community that loses, as dynamic, intelligent, and highly

skilled people move on to places that value and respect them.”

–National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Recently I have been thinking quite a bit about the value of gender neutral bathrooms. As a cis-gender gay man (who on occasion may like to dress a little more feminine) I have never had to think about the bathroom I needed to use. In all honesty If you had asked me a year ago if I thought gender neutral bathrooms were an important issue for the queer community I would have said “no.” I understood that this was an issue that trans* folks and gender non-conforming folks were dealing with, but I would not have put this issue above the dozens of other issues the queer community was working on.

Some public places (such as facilities targeted to the transgender or LGBT communities, and a few universities and offices) provide individual bathrooms that are not gender-specified, specifically in order to respond to the concerns of gender-variant people; but this remains very rare and often controversial. Various courts have ruled on whether transgender people have the right to use the bathroom of their gender of identity, but again these rulings are not identical.

Transgender advocacy groups in the United States and elsewhere have taken up the cause of gender neutral toilets. They see de-gendered toilets as a solution to eliminate harassment and other inconveniences for trans* people in using conventional toilets. In 2005 there were 5 American cities, including San Francisco and New York, with regulations for public restroom access based on person’s perceived gender identity rather than their birth sex, but again this does not take into account a person’s identity and not just perceived identity. Various TV shows like Ally McBeal  depict gender neutral bathrooms, but this did not come without controversy.

It wasn’t until I got into a pretty heated discussion with a friend that I realized that this is actually a really big issue that actually seems pretty easy to fix. The discussion came up when I walked into the “women’s” restroom at a conference and once inside didn’t want to make an issue of things so I just used the bathroom like I normally would. When I came out my friend asked if I felt safe using the bathroom or if I was afraid anyone would call security on me. I replied that I didn’t actually think about it and just wanted to use the bathroom. Out of convenience I used the bathroom I had already entered.

My friend (Trans* identified f2m) told me that they had to think about those two things (among others) every single time they use a public bathroom. That using the restroom was more difficult than just finding where they are located and choosing one, unlike how it might be for me. My friend would in most cases plan their bathroom usage based on where they were. For example, they would use their home bathroom before traveling somewhere or find a single occupancy bathroom and always be aware of where the nearest handicapped bathroom is (these bathrooms tend to be gender neutral so that anyone in a wheelchair etc can use the bathroom).

I can’t imagine always having to plan my next bathroom usage, there are plenty of other things I have to worry about in a day to add something like this to the list. It’s really kind of ignorant of me to have never thought about this while being part of the Queer community, especially with how engaged I am in this work. Over the past year I have thought a lot more critically about gender neutral bathrooms and have come to this conclusion. I believe every human being (regardless of gender identity, or sexual orientation) should have access to bathrooms that are safe, clean and meet their needs or privacy.

“Bathrooms segregated by sex are potentially unsafe and

intimidating places for a variety of people.”-University of Chicago

I understand the valid concerns of a female bodied person saying “I don’t feel safe using the bathroom with a man in the same room” or “I need privacy and need a closed bathroom.” I think having single occupancy bathrooms that are open to anyone is a simple solution to this problem. I don’t think it is imperative that all bathrooms are gender neutral, but that any place that has public bathrooms should also have a gender neutral option. At the risk of making a few people uncomfortable, we have a simple solution to make many trans* and gender non-conforming folks comfortable using bathrooms, wherever they may be.

A great resource, safe2pee.org, helps you find accessible bathrooms for you to use by entering your address. If you know of any bathrooms that aren’t added to this list, please add them so that others who need access to these bathrooms can find them. Interesting anecdote: I also found an iPhone app that uses geo-location software to find the nearest public restroom to your location. It doesn’t however tell you where gender neutral bathrooms are which I think would make the app even more fantastic. (Any iPhone app developers want to make some quick cash and develop it?)

I am interested to know what you think. Why should bathrooms be gendered or gender neutral? What are the implications that you see? Would you feel comfortable with having only gender neutral bathrooms?