Providing Equal Access to Aquatic Facility Locker Rooms for People Who Are Transgender

October 1, 2016, Department, by Laurel P. Richmond, Ph.D., CPRP, AFO-I

Park and recreation agencies must establish policies and training to ensure that every person is treated safely and fairly while using their facilities.Aquatics professionals have many tasks that they must handle on a daily basis. Ensuring that their pool is safe for all patrons is the No. 1, most-pressing concern. While we are always concerned about children running on the deck, or the temperature and chemistry of the water, we are also concerned with patron safety in the shower, changing areas and locker rooms. Many of us have policies prohibiting the use of cellphones while in the locker rooms or have set maximum ages for a member of the opposite sex to use the changing facilities. Now, as many states have recently passed laws regarding transgender people and their use of locker rooms and bathrooms, we must establish policies and training to ensure that every person is treated safely and fairly while using our facilities.

Recent news stories have created scrutiny over who is using which locker room or changing facility and who is “allowed” to utilize sex-segregated spaces such as restrooms. It is our responsibility as pool operators to create and enforce a clear set of guidelines for all patrons and to mitigate the fear that someone might feel about who is using “their” space. 

Understanding Terminology

First, we must understand what is meant by the umbrella term, “transgender.” Gender is a sociological construct and is characterized as man, woman and the range of identities in the spectrum between man and woman. A person who identifies as transgender is a person whose gender identity is not the same as what was assigned to them at birth. Their physical body and sex organs do not match how they feel inside about who they are. Their parents and doctors classified them as a boy or a girl at birth, but they feel and believe their gender identity is not well-represented by this early classification. As such, this person may have decided to partially or fully transition to their correct gender. The process of transitioning means changing the physical body and gender presentation from one gender to another. This includes a wide spectrum of things from altering one’s hair, dress and mannerisms, to taking hormonal supplements and/or having surgery to transition to the gender that matches one’s identity. The goal for many people who are transgender is to “pass” as the gender with which they identify. This means that they may not have had surgery to transition from one gender to another, but one cannot tell that they were born a boy as they are presenting their body using feminine traits and characteristics and therefore “pass” through society as a woman. 

A person who is transgender can be anywhere on the spectrum of transitioning, and this presents challenges for those of us who are responsible for locker room facilities. Some states allow a person to change the sex on a driver’s license no matter where the person is in the stages of transitioning. Locker room patrons often determine whether or not someone is “allowed” to be in the locker room based on physical clues and not every transgender person passes as the gender with which they identify. This requires that we educate our staff and patrons about this topic and have very clear policies in place that are enforced. 

Communicating with Patrons

Aquatic facility operators must think about how to address questions from patrons regarding transgender people and the facility’s policy about locker room use. Ensuring that a policy is in place prior to an incident or complaint is fundamental to providing quality service. Creating and enforcing a policy helps to address the concerns and fears of facility patrons. The facility policy exists to support and provide safe, quality aquatic experiences for all patrons. 

Researching your state law is the first step. Many states require that the sex listed on a person’s driver’s license corresponds to the locker room that must be used. 

The second step involves surveying the facility space and the locker room itself. For facilities that have the space, it may be possible to create a gender-neutral changing area or provide a family restroom for people who are made uncomfortable by using the larger men’s or women’s locker rooms. Gender-neutral areas are to be used by anyone who wishes to use them. They are not to be spaces only for people who identify as transgender. If this is not possible, evaluate the locker room space that you do have. Toilet areas are private and shower areas may be separated spaces as well. Hang shower curtains in both the shower areas and in the changing areas to provide more privacy for all patrons. 

Third, staff must be trained to address all patron concerns confidently and discreetly. They must be able to explain the facility policy and enforce it without drawing excess attention to individuals. Other than checking identification to ensure that the sex listed matches the sex of the locker room in use, it is not staff’s responsibility to question who belongs in what locker room. Staff may need to direct the patron’s attention to the gender-neutral space or point out the accommodations made if privacy is still a concern. 

Finally, invite a review of your policies by someone who is transgender and uses your facility. They may have suggestions that can make the space more welcoming for all patrons. These steps help us to follow the law while also providing safe, enjoyable aquatic experiences for all our participants. 

People who are transgender typically do not want excess attention to be called to them. It may be difficult for them to even consider using an aquatic facility knowing that they might be questioned about which locker room they “should” be using. Aquatic activities require changing into clothing that is form-fitting and often revealing, and for someone who is uncomfortable with the presentation of their body, it might be easier to avoid swimming facilities all together. It is our responsibility to to make our aquatic spaces as safe and welcoming for each participant as possible. 


Laurel P. Richmond, Ph.D., CPRP, AFO-I, is an Assistant Professor at California State University, Long Beach.