First bar in Iceland to remove gender signs

Gender signs have been removed from the restrooms at the bar Gaukurinn in the city center of Reykjavík in an effort to make them gender neutral. Owner and manager of the bar, Sólveig Johnsen, says it’s discriminating that some people don’t feel comfortable going to the bathroom because of gender signs and wants to do all she can to fight for equality for all in Iceland. SUMMARY HERE.

Sólveig Johnsen, bar owner and manager of bar Gaukurinn has had gender signs removed from restrooms of her establishment to make everyone feel welcome. She thinks other bar owners and managers should do the same.

“We just changed the signs and I find it so amazing that it’s considered to be something special. I mean it’s the toilet for crying out loud,” says Sólveig Johnsen, owner and manager of Gaukurinn, a bar in down town Reykjavík.

The restrooms at Gaukurinn now have no gender signs and when entering the restrooms it only reads: “All gender restrooms”. This is the first bar in Reykjavík to remove gender labels and Sólveig says it’s her answer to the gender duplicity that exists in Iceland and all over the world when it comes to restrooms.

“The idea of the two genders is obsolete. But it seems to be natural for restrooms to be gender labelled. That is probably the biggest reason behind why I wanted to do this. I wanted to take a stand against this gender duplicity and as an owner of a bar I can do something and I feel like it is my duty to do so. I feel I should do what I can to fight for equality,” says Sólveig who has carried this idea within her for a while now.

“I wanted to take a stand against this gender duplicity and as an owner of a bar I can do something and I feel like it is my duty to do so. I feel I should do what I can to fight for equality.”

“To not be able to go to the restroom you feel most comfortable going to is just so discriminating. I mean, it’s a bathroom. It’s not asking for much. Even though I’m a part of a privileged group of white women I’ve experienced frustration at places where there are two, identical restrooms, one for women and one for men. And even though the men’s room is not occupied and the ladies’ is, I still have to wait like a fool for the ladies’ because I’m not allowed to use the men’s room.

So, I can’t even imagine how people who don’t identify themselves as male or female feel about never going to a bathroom with a label that they are comfortable with. And to be harassed because someone doesn’t like which bathroom you choose. It’s so absurd.”

Increased safety with gender neutral restrooms

Sólveig runs Gaukurinn with her significant other, Starri Hauksson. They have no concerns about the safety of their customers when using the restrooms because they don’t believe that gender sign protect people against violence.

“I think that safety should increase if anything with these sort of changes. We have good people working for us who are very conscious of these changes and monitor the restrooms closely. I don’t believe that separate restroom for men and women automatically give you security. If everyone is on their best behavior we can all be friends. You can’t stop violence with gender labelled restrooms. There are other things at play.

The entrance leading to the restrooms has a sign indicating that everyone, all genders are welcome to use them. The doors of the restrooms themselves however are not labelled with typical gender signs anymore.

It also matters that we have great employees and we encourage our customers to notify them if they experience anything that could be considered as harassment. I think people feel more safe if they know that they can always turn to someone within the establishment and that their voices will be heard.”

Gaukurinn has had a very close relationship with the performance art drag group Drag-Súgur and Sólveig says that bond is one of the reasons why Gaukurinn is a queer friendly bar, one of few in Iceland.

“They are our friends and we shared a float with them at the Pride Parade. I believe that the artists in Drag-Súgur have made us more aware about all the colors of the queer umbrella and helped us in the making of the gender neutral restrooms,” says Sólveig, who also did her fair share of research before changing the bathrooms.

“I urge all managers to follow my lead … in a dream world all restrooms in Iceland will be gender neutral in a year’s time and we will all live together in harmony.”

“We had planned to refurbish our restrooms and make them gender neutral for a while. But construction drew long and Reykjavík Pride was coming up. So we decided to keep our old restroom and just change the signs in time for Reykjavík Pride. So the restrooms aren’t as perfect as I would

A legendary bar Gaukurinn is a live music venue and bar, situated in downtown Reykjavík.
A legendary bar Gaukurinn is a live music venue and bar, situated in downtown Reykjavík.

like them to be but it’s a huge step in the direction that we want to go. When I got this idea I read a lot of articles written by people abroad that are fighting for gender neutral restrooms. I also read about some places that had changed their labelling and wrote a thread on Facebook to see what people thought about this idea and how I could make it better. The responses I got there were extremely positive,” says Sólveig.

It’s only been a week now since Gaukurinn removed the gender signs but Sólveig says that the response has been good. “I, personally, have not heard anything negative. People love the concept and the bartenders get positive comments about it all the time. Granted, it’s only been a week so maybe I will at some point have to face people with old-fashioned and out-dated opinions but those people can just go somewhere else. If these restrooms stop you in having fun then you have bigger problems.

But hopefully some people will walk into Gaukurinn, see the restrooms and thinks: “All genders? I thought there were only two”, and do some research. Visibility is the key to fight prejudice and to educate about all the different groups within the LGBTQI+ community.”

Urges all public places to remove gender signs

It made headlines in the beginning of this year when Akurskóli, an Icelandic elementary school, removed gender signs from it’s bathrooms in an effort to become gender neutral. The principal of the school urged other schools to follow their example and that’s exactly what Sólveig wants as well – for other bars and clubs to change their labelling.

Last winter school officials of Akurskóli had gender signs removed from the school’s restrooms, in order for the school to become more gender neutral.
Last winter school officials of Akurskóli had gender signs removed from the school’s restrooms, in order for the school to become more gender neutral.

“And not just bars and clubs but all public places. Someone has to take the first step and I’m glad that it was me. I know that some managers are worried about bad publicity but I think those worries are uncalled for – except if your client base is narrow-minded. I urge all managers to follow my lead and in a dream world all restrooms in Iceland will be gender neutral in a year’s time and we will all live together in harmony.”

Reykjavík city has also turned to the national queer organisation Samtökin ’78 and Trans Iceland for a review on a suggestion that was sent by trans activist Ugla Stefanía to the city council about gender neutral public bathrooms and public changing rooms. Both Samtökin ’78 and Trans Iceland have given the city council their reviews and both agree that this suggestion should be realized since it regards basic human rights and is an important matter in the fight for equality. The suggestion is currently under review at the city council.

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