It is rare that a story about grocery store bathrooms going viral is positive, but one Kroger store in Athens, Ga. has changed all that. The store posted a sign on its restroom that explained,
“We have a unisex bathroom because sometimes gender specific toilets put others into uncomfortable situations. And since we have a lot of our friends coming to see us, we want to provide a place for our friends who are: dads with daughters, moms with sons, parents with disabled children, those in the LGBTQ community, adults with aging parents who may be mentally or physically disabled. Thank you for helping us to provide a safe environment for everyone!”
The original post has been shared nearly 120,000 times and been featured in more than 60 news stories. The buzz all over social media has been largely positive. But, what about this sign is so compelling? By making the store’s choice of a non-gender-specific restroom compassionate and inclusive, taking into consideration not only the LGBTQ community around which most of these conversations tend to focus, but also about parents, young children, the disabled, and the elderly, the store humanized the decision instead of politicizing it.
So far, this message seems to be isolated to this one store. Kroger’s corporate office did not immediately provide comments to several media outlets that covered the story and has not posted anything on its own website. However, the stance seems to align with the corporate culture. In October 2015, Kroger Co. agreed to extend transgender health benefits to employees and in the 14th edition of the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in November 2015,Â the company’s score increased from 85 to 95 compared to the previous edition.
As a company with a large number of stores across Bible Belt states, Kroger’s position on transgender health benefits is particularly progressive. The company should take the momentum from the Athens store and officially recognize the store manager for how she or he tried to proactively avoid any pushback from customers by openly talking about the wide range of people who benefit from unisex bathrooms and not making it about just one single group.
It may be logistically impossible to make unisex bathrooms a blanket corporate policy (bathrooms with multiple stalls get tricky), but Kroger should talk about steps it will take to encourage all of its store managers to make sure everyone is made as welcome as possible in every location.
Melissa Arnoff is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to Tomorrow.