The bathrooms at Optimism Brewing Company on Capitol Hill don't have signs instructing people of different genders where they ought to pee. Instead, the brewery has one big restroom without a door, one giant fountain sink, and two rows of private stalls with fixtures divided into two categories: toilets and urinals.
Gay Gilmore, one half of the husband-wife team that launched Optimism last December, says the decision to have a unisex bathroom was originally one borne of practicality. "When we were going through all the architectural planning for all of this, we found out there's code that tells you how many toilet fixtures need to be in the men's and women's room," she says. "We were like, this is just ridiculous. As a woman, realizing that there are often two toilet stalls unused in the men's room all the time, I realized this is a tremendous, inefficient use of resources."
Gilmore decided that she wanted all the fixtures to be made available to all patrons at all times. She said that it took weeks for the city to agree to the idea of a unisex bathroom. Then, while Optimism was still in its construction phase, the Seattle City Council passed legislation requiring that all single-stall restrooms be designated as all-gender facilities. "So I was able to say, 'Look the mayor says this is what you need to do in the city, and I think you should consider each of our stalls as individual stalls, so you have to let me let this through," Gilmore says.
Now that the bathroom has been in use for six months, Gilmore says that patrons have come up to her to thank her for it. "I have friends whose kids are transgender," Gilmore says. "This is one of the pivotal times in their lives when they're judged by their gender and that is very difficult. I've had people who've come up to us in tears just saying, 'This is a place where my kid can feel safe.' That makes me feel really great as a mom and a business that really wants to be a safe place for all LGBTQ people in Seattle."
There are additional benefits to a unisex bathroom, too. "As a mom, the baby-changing table is always in the women's restroom and never in the men's restroom," Gilmore says. "And so we were like, we're putting it in the generic restroom and now everyone can change their babies' diapers!"
Gilmore also has a theory that the Optimism bathroom encourages patrons to wash their hands. She says: "I feel like there's an added advantage because when everyone's in the same room you're going to be judged if you don't wash your hands on the way out."
Optimism's bathroom basically subscribes to the same idea as Jane Jacobs' "eyes on the street" theory. That idea goes something like this: More eyes on the street—meaning more density and mixed use areas—helps public safety because there are more witnesses to criminal and questionable behavior. In a unisex bathroom with private stalls and private urinals, all genders can use the facilities privately, then keep an eye on each other when it comes time to wash hands publicly.