Gender neutral signs are posted in the 21C Museum Hotel public restrooms.

Report Says Tech Industry ‘Suddenly Cares’ About Trans People But Needs Work

A recent article from Tech Crunch says that the tech industry is finally coming around to being more trans-friendly but that it still has a long way to go, and that it shouldn’t have taken so long for tech companies to reach out.

“When Yelp added a way for its trans and gender non-conforming users to find safe restrooms, it felt like a mixed blessing for a community that’s used to being ignored,” Taylor Hatmaker writes in the Tech Crunch article.

“Over time, Yelp’s feature will provide a robust database of public bathrooms — the kind the transgender community has been building for itself for years.”

Hatmaker notes that Yelp’s recent decision to add the safe-restrooms feature comes at a time when transgender concerns are reaching a “tipping point” both in the tech industry and in broader American culture. Hatmaker sites North Carolina’s HB2 “Bathroom Bill” and the impending Gavin Grimm Supreme Court case as examples of the ongoing tension over transgender rights and the tech industry’s efforts to address them.

Grimm is suing a school board in Virginia, claiming it violated his rights under Title IX of anti-discrimination education amendments passed in 1972 by denying him access to the boy’s restroom at his school, the Washington Post previously reported.

Fifty-four tech companies, led by Apple, signed an amicus brief in support of Grimm. It was another major step in tech’s ongoing, if belated, efforts to become more accommodating to the trans and non-binary communities.

“In an atmosphere of intense political polarization around the issue, figuring out a low-stress restroom contingency plan in public places can be a total nightmare for trans people,” Hatmaker said of Yelp’s safe-bathrooms feature.

“Naturally, most people outside of the trans community have no idea how much fear and stress can go into something as simple as meeting a friend for a beer or two after work. Now, that conversation — and the larger accompanying question of equal access — comes up on the national stage in the way that marriage equality did a few years prior.”

Hatmaker acknowledged that some people may not see Yelp’s gesture as a serious effort, but she noted that it nevertheless required “dedicated resources, pulling as many as a dozen people off of their existing tasks, ratcheting up the priority level and getting it done.”

It was the announcement that the Supreme Court would be taking Grimm’s case that, at least in part, inspired Yelp to move on the safe-bathrooms feature.

“Given the attention this issue is receiving on a legislative level, the choice to build this resource into the fabric of our platform really does — and has — opened up Yelp to a lot of criticism from those on the other side of the transgender rights issue,” a Yelp spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“We made a lot of conscious choices along the way that others would view as incredibly risky, and they may well be, but from our perspective, accepting those risks to get this done actually defines how genuine this effort is.”

Despite the gains being made, Hatmaker is careful to point out that the tech industry remains a “rocky landscape” for trans rights.

Many trans people remain skeptical about just how much progress is being made and are monitoring the industry while keeping their trans identity secret from their coworkers for fear of social or professional consequences.

“A [trans woman] that came out while on the job has been gushing about how great her experience is, meanwhile a trans friend of mine who was stealth at Intel is afraid to come out because of his transphobic team members,” one trans person working in the tech industry told Tech Crunch.

[Featured Image by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images]

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