How the Oakland Stake Center now has Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

If you’ve ever been to the Oakland, California temple, you may recall there being two large buildings: one is the visitor’s center, and the other is a large, misshapen building that looks and is a basically a bunch of rooms aggregated upon many winding hallways. It’s a multi-stake center. It contains 2 chapels, a large assembly room, 2 gyms and stages, multiple stake and ward offices, and a big auditorium where stake conferences or cultural events take place. There is almost no rhyme or reason to the layout. You’ll notice oddities like, “Where are the coat hooks?” There are no coat hooks. And some years ago, I noticed that near one of the nurseries on the bottom floor were labelled “Men” and “Women,” but once inside, they were large family-style bathrooms with a single toilet, sink, and counter.

Photo of the bathroom door and sign taken in January 2020. The door has a symbol of a woman on it and the sign says "Women" with the same symbol.
Photo of the women’s single-user bathroom, January 2020.

Labeling these large bathrooms with gendered signs seemed really silly and it bugged me. Having family-style bathrooms are not only more inclusive for transgender people, but better for everyone. Imagine a young Mormon dad with a stroller and 2 toddlers that he needs to assist in the bathroom, or a person needing the assistance of an opposite-sex family member in the bathroom due to age or disability. Additionally, I know of at least 3 trans girls in our stake’s youth program and primary.

This past January, I was talking with some other local Mormon feminists and this came up and one of them, from the South Bay, mentioned that their church building has similar single-user bathrooms, but labels those with gender-neutral signage. This is what I wanted! So I looked into it.

In 2017, the state of California started requiring that single-user bathroom facilities be labeled with gender-neutral signage, however, like accessibility accommodations, churches are not required to follow that rule, unless… they rent out their facilities to be used by the public.

So with that knowledge in hand, I emailed our stake president asking if he had the contact information for the person in charge of the facilities so we could get new signage. His first response was the token argument that the church probably doesn’t need to abide by the law because it’s a church, but I pointed out that every year, the United States Open Music Competition takes place at the stake center and that might make the Church responsible in updating the signs. The stake president did respond that he and the stake presidency agreed the sign would be updated and that they would ask Facilities to update it.

That was in January/February. COVID happened and as the temple building and stake center closed, I wasn’t sure if this would be very high on the priority list. Also, how would I know? I’m not going to the church as it’s closed!

But then I did go to the church building last month. I participate in the Temple Hill Symphony Orchestra and I needed to go up there to borrow the timpani to make recordings of a few pieces for a remote version of Handel’s Messiah for the Christmas season. I had the building all to myself, except for a cleaning person and her 4 year old. So I walked over to the bathroom and snapped a photo of the new signage. It was there!

There are still gendered bathrooms at the stake center and these gender-neutral ones are hard to find in the winding halls of the multi-stake center, but they are there! It is such a small, easy fix to make the restrooms at the church building better for everyone.

TopHat

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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11 Responses

  1. Libby says:

    Baby step by baby step!

  2. DeAnn S says:

    I am so impressed that you approached your Stake President – and that he was willing to listen. I really liked your examples of the Mormon dad needing to help several children, or a member with disabilities needing help. This put the issues of bathroom into “common sense” rather than eternal gender roles. Thank you!

  3. S Vance says:

    Personal restrooms like this have kind of been the norm in Sweden for over 20 years. So glad that they’re finally getting adopted here. In addition to helping LGBT+ individuals, they also make things a lot easier for parents with young kids, etc., as others have noted.

  4. David says:

    Personal (family) restrooms like this have been in most churches for as long as I can remember. This article is making a big deal over nothing.

    • TopHat says:

      Well, it wasn’t in this church building, built in the 1960s, so it is kind of a big deal. I know this is the first time I’ve seen family-style restrooms in a church building and I’ve gone to LDS church in Indiana, Illinois, Utah, and now California. Guess I’m not as lucky as you. This building still doesn’t have a mother’s lounge, so definitely needs some work.

      • Bishop Bill says:

        Tophat, don’t let David gaslight you. It is a big deal.

      • Anna says:

        I agree with bishop Bill. This is a big deal. I am a military wife and we lived all over the place and I have never seen a gender neutral family style restroom in any LDS church building, ever, anywhere.

        If David has had them in his church buildings “as long as he can remember” then I would suggest he must have a very short memory of a year or two.

  5. Chiaroscuro says:

    way to use your voice tophat! Glad they made the change

  6. Risa says:

    Good work! I’ve never understood the usefulness of a single stall gendered bathroom.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    Thank you for explaining clearly how you did this! It would be wonderful to see other buildings follow suit.

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