One local restaurant owner is taking a personal and professional stand against discrimination as Charlotte continues to debate a package of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances slated for a vote on Feb. 8.
Juli Ghazi, owner of Pure Pizza, received praise over the weekend when a patron posted a photo of her restaurant’s restroom policy to the Plaza Midwood Facebook group. The post by Larken Egleston has received nearly 600 likes and 100 shares.
The policy, posted in one of Pure Pizza’s restrooms, reads:
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 wanted to provide a place for our friends who are:
- Single Dads with daughters
- Single Moms with sons
- Parents with disabled children
- Those in the LGBTQ community
- Adults with aging parents who may be mentally/physically disabled
Thank you for helping us to provide a safe environment for everyone.
Ghazi says the gender-neutral restroom is one of two restrooms in her restaurant. The other is reserved for women. Both were in place when she opened her Plaza Midwood location last summer, partly inspired by last March’s failed City Council vote on several LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.
“I knew when we were opening the location that it was something I wanted to do,” Ghazi says. “Plaza Midwood is the kind of neighborhood that embraces this kind of thing.”
She initially ran the idea by a transgender friend who was working with her to open the restaurant.
“I asked my friend about it before we opened,” she says. “It brought tears to my friend’s eyes, because someone recognized the need. They talked from their personal standpoint about having to use gender-specific restrooms.”
Another friend, Ghazi says, had a father in his 80s with dementia. He couldn’t use the restroom alone and she needed to be with him.
“It’s so much bigger than whether the person next to you at one time identified as another sex,” Ghazi says.
Ghazi says she was saddened when a package of non-discrimination ordinances, including a prohibition against discrimination in public accommodations like restaurants, hotels, bars and, yes, restrooms, was rejected by Charlotte City Council last year. Though the package of ordinances would have protected a wide variety of people in several areas, most of the media and those opposed to the ordinances focused solely on restroom use by transgender people.
“Our community got really small-minded,” Ghazi says, “when it decided to breakdown this very inclusionary ordinance to just who is using the restroom next to me and what sex they are. The sole focus became restrooms and locker rooms. This is such a bigger human rights issue than just who’s in the stall next to you. It’s none of your business.”
The response to Ghazi’s decision has been positive, she says. And contrary to the fear-laden proclamations of anti-LGBT advocates, Ghazi has never received a report of a patron harassed or abused by another person in the gender-neutral restroom. She’s even considering making her second restroom a gender-neutral space, as well. Before she does, it will need upgrades to match the existing space, including heavy wooden frames and tall doors on each of the stalls.
And come Feb. 8, Ghazi says she hopes City Council will finally take a positive stand and vote in favor of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections.
“I hope that it gets passed,” Ghazi says, adding she’s willing to speak out publicly in favor of the changes. “I won’t be speaking out of fear. I’ll be speaking out of experience.”
A community forum to discuss the proposed ordinances is slated for Feb. 1, 6:15 p.m., at the Palmer Building, 2601 E. 7th St. It is presented by the Charlotte Community Relations Committee and the Community Building Initiative. Advocates expect a vote by City Council will follow at their meeting on Feb. 8.
Last year, the ordinances were rejected 6-5 in a Council vote on March 2. The originally proposed ordinances would add sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics, to the city’s public accommodations, passenger vehicle for hire, city contracting and Community Relations Committee ordinances.
On restrooms in particular, the ordinances, if passed, would not create the same kind of gender-neutral or unisex space utilized in Ghazi’s restaurant. Instead, the new measures would simply protect a transgender individual’s ability to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
Similar LGBT-inclusive protections have been passed by nearly all major metropolitan areas, including Charlotte’s peer cities, though votes on non-discrimination protections failed last year in Houston and have faced difficulties in Jacksonville, Fla.