On 26 March 2016, the following photograph was posted to Facebook:
Nice job Kroger. This is from a Kroger in Athens, Ga.
Posted by Tonya Owens on Saturday, March 26, 2016
We contacted Kroger, who confirmed that the photograph was legitimate. The sign stated that in addition to families and the disabled, unisex bathrooms ensured that no one was made uncomfortable by gender specific bathrooms:
We have a UNISEX bathroom because sometimes gender specific toilets put others into uncomfortable situations. And since we have a lot of friends coming to see us, we want 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 photograph soon became quite popular on social media:
Kroger's explanation of unisex bathroom goes viral #kprc2 https://t.co/pNGCvLV3GA pic.twitter.com/nnFBitXNwK
— KPRC 2 Houston (@KPRC2) March 30, 2016
Why a bathroom sign at a Kroger has gone massively viral: https://t.co/ZXL70Y9OBi pic.twitter.com/tluCAeu1Cj — IndyStar (@indystar) March 30, 2016
The image circulated as several southern states debated varying forms of legislation that balanced gay and transgender rights with proposals involving how to engage (or not engage) with members of the public based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
On 28 March 2016, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed legislation known as HB 757, which was one of several proposals pertaining to matters of religion and LGBT citizens:
HB 757 enumerates certain actions that religious leaders, faith-based organizations and people of faith shall not be required to take or perform. These include solemnizing a marriage, attending such marriages, hiring church personnel or renting church property when such acts would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs. While most people would agree that government should not force such actions, there has not been a single instance of such taking place in Georgia. If there has been any case of this type in our state it has not been called to my attention. The examples being cited by the proponents of this bill have occurred in other states that have very different laws than Georgia.
Therefore, as I have examined the protections this bill seeks to provide to religious organizations and people of faith I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia. It is also apparent that the cases being cited from other states occurred because those state had passed statutes that specifically protected their citizens from adverse actions based on their sexual orientation. Georgia has no such statutes.
Gov. Deal's veto didn't mention bathrooms, but the controversy might have spilled over from neighboring states:
Meanwhile, North Carolina, where [in late March 2016] a bill barring cities and counties from trying to protect gay and transgender people, was signed into law, is now going to have to defend it in court.
The American Civil Liberties Union and state gay organizations on Monday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the law, which bars transgender students from using the bathrooms of their choice, as unconstitutional.
"It sends a purposeful message that LGBT people are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded others in the state," the complainants said in a press release. They argued that the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and is an invasion of privacy for transgender people. The law also violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex.
“(The law) is hurtful and demeaning ... This law puts me in the terrible position of either going into the women’s room where I clearly don’t belong or breaking the law,” said plaintiff Joaquín Carcaño. “But this is about more than bathrooms, this is about my job, my community, and my ability to get safely through my day and be productive like everyone else in North Carolina.”
The multi-state debate led many social media users to question the authenticity of the sign. However, it is real.
On 31 March 2016, we received the following e-mail from Georgia resident Julianna Temple-Roberts:
More on the Kroger bathroom --
I work there and posted the sign in January, after tiring of customers asking so many questions about the bathroom sign. "Which bathroom should I choose?" and "What IS unisex?!" and "Why do they even have a unisex bathroom?" I thought the sign would clarify some things, but it was never meant to be a big deal.
Then, last weekend a shopper -- my pal, Tonya Owens -- snapped a photo of it and posted it online. The rest is history. Kroger loves the sign now and wants to incorporate it in all stores, from what I understand. The response has been really positive & lord knows, they can't buy this kind of publicity!