October 2019 Scholar Spotlight: Phoenix Matthews
Chicago Restroom Access Project (CRAP)
Phoenix Matthews is Professor, Health Systems Science at the College of Nursing. Dr. Matthews has more than 25 years of experience examining determinants of cancer-related health disparities with a focus on racial/ethnic minorities and other underserved populations. Their recent research focuses on the use of community-based and culturally targeted health promotion interventions to reduce risk factors associated with cancer disparities, including smoking cessation treatments.
Equal access to public restrooms is a social justice issue for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. African American transgender women are disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence. However, these individuals and the broader African American community have not been sufficiently engaged in policy efforts aimed at increasing access to public spaces based on one’s chosen gender identity.
The Chicago Restroom Access Project (CRAP), a collaboration between UIC, the Chicago Department of Public Health, and the Pride Action Tank, was established in 2015 with the goal of supporting passage of public policy in Chicago regarding mandatory conversion of gendered single-stall restrooms that only one person uses at a time to all-gender restrooms that can be used by any person, including transgender or gender non-conforming individuals.
To better understand the attitudes of diverse stakeholder groups regarding all-gender restroom policy, the group conducted focus groups with members of African American communities, conducted a survey study of participants of the 2016 Creating Change conference, conducted an online survey of business leaders, and finally obtained feedback from users of a multi-stall all gender restroom.
- In focus groups, the majority of participants reported feeling either totally (53%) or somewhat comfortable (16%) using all-gender single-stall restrooms and 58% felt that a local change in legislation to transition all single-stall restrooms to all-gender would be positive, while 26% were unsure, and 5% felt it would have a negative impact.
- Of the 90 participants in their online survey of business owners, 79% responded that a change to the current law regarding single-stall restrooms to all-gender restrooms would be “totally acceptable” while 14% felt it would be totally unacceptable.
- 51% of business owners responding to the online survey noted that, if single stall restrooms in Chicago became all-gender, this would have a positive impact on their business. 39% felt it would have no impact, and 10% felt it would have a negative impact.
The research team found that a majority of business owners were in favor of legislation to change single stall restrooms to all-gender restrooms. In 2017, the Chicago Building Commissioner determined that businesses have the option of designating each single-user restroom as unisex.
In 2019, SB 556 — a bill designating all single-occupancy restroom facilities in Illinois as gender neutral — overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the state legislature and was signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker. The bill takes effect on January 1, 2020. Equality Illinois specifically thanked CRAP for their leadership in passage of the legislation.
Despite this policy success, Illinois is one of only four states with such a law on the books. The work of CRAP continues. Visit prideactiontank.org to learn more about the benefits of creating gender-neutral restrooms.