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Tabloids Freak Out Over Trans-Inclusive Changing Rooms, Which Are Nothing New

Hysterical commentators have accused Topshop of caving to "the trans lobby" after the company said that customers can use changing rooms that correspond to their gender identity. But many British retailers have always had trans-friendly policies in place.

Sirin Kale

Sirin Kale

Photo by Aila Images via Stocksy

Last week, leading fashion retailer Topshop affirmed that it had a trans-inclusive changing room policy in response to reports that a transgender customer was barred from its changing rooms—only to face criticism that it had given in to the "trans lobby."

Traviz Alabanza, who identifies as trans feminine and uses “they/them” pronouns, says they were shopping with a group of friends at a Manchester branch of Topshop earlier this month when they were blocked from using the dressing room by a shop assistant.

“I normally online shop,” Alabanza told BuzzFeed. “But we were going in a group [to the event] so I thought it would be fun to go shopping in a group. We were in quite a good mood and all found outfits that we all wanted to wear."

Alabanza lined up for the changing room with a selection of dresses, but was told by the attendant to take the items downstairs to the Topman changing rooms and try them on there instead.

After asking to speak to a manager, Alabanza says they were told that they wouldn’t be able to use the Topshop changing rooms as there were women in their underwear there. Even after Alabanza pointed out that they did not feel safe in the Topman changing rooms, they were not allowed to use the fitting room. Eventually, Alabanza left without buying anything.

Read more: How the Media Bullies Trans People to Death

After sharing their story on Twitter, Alabanza was met with messages of love and support. A spokesperson for Topshop and Topman also told Broadly that their stores allowed customers to use the fitting room that corresponded to their gender identity: “All Topshop and Topman customers are free to use any of the fitting rooms located within our stores."

However, some media outlets seized on Alabanza's story, with the Daily Mail reporting that trans activists and customers like Alabanza had pressured Topshop and Topman into amending their changing room policies.

On Saturday, the Times newspaper also published a column titled "Children Sacrificed To Appease The Trans Lobby," which said that Topshop's trans-inclusive changing room policy threatened the "privacy and safety" of female customers. It also misgendered Alabanza throughout the piece.

"Travis Alabanza is a performance artist who, in the tradition of Leigh Bowery, Boy George or Bowie, dresses to astonish and subvert," wrote journalist Janice Turner. "Blue lipstick, beard stubble, fab shoes, frocks, mad hair, attitude. What Travis isn’t, however, is a woman."

Despite the inflammatory language being used to describe Alabanza's case, trans-inclusive changing rooms aren't new or particularly controversial. They've actually been introduced at many major retailers across the UK.

Broadly reached out to the top ten clothing retailers in the UK to ask them how they would accommodate a transgender or non-binary person wanting to use their fitting rooms. Half of them—Primark, the Arcadia Group (which owns stores like Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge, as well as Topshop and Topman), Debenhams, New Look, and Tesco—all confirmed that transgender and non-binary customers could use the changing rooms that aligned with their gender identity.

"Debenhams has a policy of inclusion and we welcome all customers in the gender that they present themselves in," confirmed a spokesperson for the UK department store. "We offer fitting rooms for male and females as well as personal shopper suites which customers can also use should they prefer."

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Low-cost clothing store Primark also said that they had a trans-inclusive changing room policy: “Our transgender and non-binary customers are welcome to use the fitting rooms of their choice in our stores."

Trans-friendly fitting rooms aren't particularly remarkable, and are already being used across the country without incident. Of course, as Alabanza explained to BuzzFeed, these policies don't help trans and non-binary people if the staff responsible for implementing them aren't trained properly.

"They clearly need to train the staff about what it means to serve every kind of customer," they said, "how to advocate for us, and respond against people who are phobic."