SmartSign, the largest sign retailer on the web, owns more than forty websites, on which it hawks messages that range from helpful notifications (OPEN HOUSE) to emergency instructions (IN CASE OF FIRE—USE THE STAIRS) to strict rules (NO CELL PHONES ALLOWED).
The company, based in Brooklyn, also sells bathroom signs. A few years ago, SmartSign began producing a gender-neutral image for bathroom doors—a human figure wearing pants on one side and a dress on the other (similar to the signs that have proliferated throughout the Triangle since HB 2 passed, and the image that adorns this week's INDY cover). Not long after, Sam Killermann, an LGBTQ activist, wrote a blog post criticizing the image, which he argued reinforced a duality that wasn't inclusive of fluid gender identities. And why was a human image necessary at all? Killermann wondered.
He proposed an alternative image: a toilet.
"For group restrooms, or if you're worried about folks not understanding the sign, put a short explanation below it," Killermann added.
SmartSign took Killermann's suggestions to heart and even asked him to design the new image. He did. It is a drawing of a toilet, with the words ALL-GENDER RESTROOM beneath it. The signs are available at mydoorsign.com, and they are moving fast.
"We've sold about twice as many all-gender signs in 2016 as we did in 2015," says Conrad Lumm, marketing director for SmartSign. "And sales keep going up every month."
Has HB 2 helped? "Yes and no," Lumm says. "I think that, generally, there's a broader recognition that not everybody fits into the easy gender categories we've inherited, and we're seeing that all across the country. Obviously, though, North Carolina has become a flashpoint for that cultural trend.
"Part of our gender-inclusive effort here also involves donating those signs to nonprofits and educational institutions that ask for them, because we don't think they should have to pay through the nose to update and implement that change," Lumm continues. "And we've been seeing more demand for that in North Carolina, as well as LGBT advocates there who are distributing our signs to private businesses. A lot of people are going out of their way to make this point. Or not necessarily make a point, really; they're simply being more welcoming to their clientele."