In what it’s touting as a national first, the New York City Commission on Human Rights and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new citywide ad campaign on Monday designed to affirm the right of transgender individuals to use public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The effort, which is organized under the title “Look Past the Pink and Blue,” will comprise print and, later this month, video ads featuring transgender New Yorkers. The ad text—“Use the restroom consistent with who you are. In NYC, it’s the law. No questions asked.”—reminds readers that gender identity has been a protected category in the city since 2002, a fact the commission underlined by issuing specific enforcement guidance on the matter in December. City residents and visitors will see the print ads in subway cars, bus stops, and phonebooths, as well as translated in various community and ethnic newspapers.
Alisha King, a Bronx resident and one of the trans New Yorkers taking part in the campaign, explained its importance in a statement: “Bathroom discrimination is a regular occurrence for the transgender community,” she said. “So much so that many of us avoid even using public restrooms to begin with. I sincerely hope these ads help people understand that transgender people are people just like you. We just want to use the restroom safely and be treated with respect.”
Mayor de Blasio used the campaign’s announcement as an opportunity to boast of the city’s relatively progressive history on LGBTQ rights, compared with, say, currently embattled North Carolina. “New York City has long been a leader in the fight for LGBTQ equality, and these ads are further evidence of the City’s unwavering support of our diverse communities,” the mayor noted in a press release. “While other cities and states are legislating intolerance and taking away individuals’ right to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, we are proudly standing with our transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers.”
Aside from reminding New Yorkers of the law, the Pink and Blue campaign performs an important function in the ongoing battle over trans people’s right to pee in peace—it features actual trans people. While there are definitely cisgender people out there harboring true bigotry for trans folks (and probably other queer people), there are many more for whom transness, and a more complex understanding of gender and sex in general, is simply confusing and alien. Ideally, they’ll become allies with time; but the only way to that future is through contact with the humanity of trans individuals, rather than the abstract, hypothetical-strewn rhetoric that has dominated the issue thus far. By featuring brave advocates like Alisha King, Charles Solidum, and others, these ads move us one step further down that road.