• Kyodo

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A group that advocates equality and full inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is organizing a design contest for a lavatory sign that indicates facilities intended for use by all people regardless of their birth gender or sexual orientation.

Kagawa Prefecture-based PROUD is asking people to submit proposals for a sign that would invite LGBT people to use such restrooms and to do so without the stress of being told by another user that they are in the wrong one.

The group said it will urge local governments to adopt the sign for public lavatories open to all sexual orientations.

Hiromi Fujita, 44, who heads PROUD, said lavatories that have no gender designation are often the only ones LGBT people can use.

Due to the gap between their physical appearance and sexual orientation, some LGBT people find they are told to “go to the other side” by others when standing in line to use a lavatory, Fujita said.

According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the barrier-free movement started in Japan in the 1990s, with introduction of laws and policies aimed at ensuring better access to public buildings for the elderly and people with limited mobility.

For the past 15 years or so, so-called multipurpose lavatories have been introduced, including some with diaper-changing tables. They were originally designed to accommodate people using wheelchairs.

However, the group’s members say they would feel uncomfortable using such facilities, as they are primarily intended for the elderly, people with physical disabilities and people with babies.

Fujita said some people have such misgivings about using multipurpose lavatories that they will go without relieving themselves — or will refrain from leaving home.

To address these problems, PROUD hopes to encourage the public to get behind the movement. With this in mind, it has asked people to draw up gender-free lavatory signs that are easy for all to understand, including foreign tourists.

“It’s necessary to raise public awareness about the difficulties that sexual minorities face when it comes to the use of toilet booths,” said Gihei Takahashi, a Toyo University professor specializing in architectural planning with a focus on the planning of public lavatories.

“We need to take such measures as increasing the number of multipurpose public toilets.”

Proposals for the signs can be hand-drawn or drafted on a computer. They can be submitted through the group’s website, proud-kagawa.org, until Sept. 30. PROUD will select two winning designs in December.

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