Inclusion this way: Making hospitality spaces trans-friendly

Millie Milliken

Millie Milliken

16 October 2020

Debate around transphobia flooded Twitter this summer, and transgender inclusivity continues to be an important conversation. Millie Milliken talks to the on-trade about how we can make our hospitality spaces more welcoming to the trans community

I didn’t think I’d be writing about J.K Rowling in an on-trade drinks magazine. Yet here we are. The Harry Potter author caused a furore on Twitter after tweeting what were deemed to be transphobic comments in response to an article titled ‘Opinion: Creating a more equal post-Covid-19 world for people who menstruate’. Rowling, in questioning the use of the word ‘people’ instead of ‘women’, was not acknowledging that transgender men and non-binary persons also, in fact, menstruate.

Of course, controversy over gendered language is nothing new, and indeed, this isn’t the first time that Rowling has been accused of being a ‘terf’ (transexclusionary radical feminist). But her comments have certainly reinvigorated debate around what it means to be transgender in 2020.

And so to bars and hospitality. As of 2010, the Equality Act in the UK states that: ‘It is unlawful to refuse a service, or provide a worse standard of service, because a person is intending to undergo, is undergoing, or has undergone gender reassignment.

‘For example, this means that stopping a trans person from using the toilet they feel is appropriate to them may create a risk of legal action being taken against the pub, club or venue you work at.

‘It is also unlawful for a business to unlawfully discriminate against or harass someone because they intend to undergo, are undergoing, or have undergone gender reassignment.’


Gender identity One’s internal sense of being
male and/or female or neither.

Transgender A person whose gender identity
and/or gender expression differs from what is
culturally typically associated with the gender/
sex they were assigned at birth.

Non-binary A term for all genders other than
female/woman/girl or male/man/boy.
Cis/cisgender/cissexual People who identify
with the gender/sex assigned to them at birth.

Gender expression The expression of one’s
gender through clothing, hairstyle, voice,
makeup, etc.


Yet according to the Stonewall LGBTQ in Britain Trans Report 2018, for which YouGov surveyed 5,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in the UK, almost half (48%) of trans people don’t feel comfortable using public toilets, while 34% have been discriminated against because of their gender identity when visiting a café, restaurant, bar or nightclub in the last year.

So, what more can be done? A lot, it turns out – from gender-neutral toilets and language, to training and being more representative behind the bar.

Neutral spaces

‘The spaces that are particularly argued over, or are points of battleground, are bathrooms,’ Hannah Lanfear tells me. The WSET spirits educator (with her company The Mixing Class), co-founder of LGBTQI+ Facebook community group Cocktail QTs, and Imbibe Educator of the Year 2019 is talking to me alongside wife Lo Marshall (an urban geographer who researches gender, sexuality and how the LGBTQI+ community uses hospitality spaces) during an IGTV interview on trans inclusion at Imbibe Live Online.

‘We need to educate ourselves on where we sit on this issue,’ she continues. How? Simple: ‘We need to stop gendering our bathrooms.’

For trans and non-binary people, making toilets gender-neutral can be the difference between going to the toilet, not going to the toilet or not going out at all.

Do I feel like being berated and sneered at going into the
women’s restroom?

Chris Cabrera

‘Going to the restroom is one of the most mundane things, but for me, there are questions I need to ask,’ explains Chris Cabrera, Grey Goose ambassador in NYC and activist for trans rights. Cabrera visits bars around the world (including NYC’s Dead Rabbit and Singapore’s Atlas) to deliver training on the past, present and future of the trans community. ‘I stand and look at both doors and ask “what kind of establishment am I in? And do I feel like being berated and sneered at going into the women’s restroom?”’

At east-London’s Tayēr + Elementary, the toilet is gender-neutral, disability-friendly and comes complete with tampons and toiletries. Co-owner Monica Berg didn’t plan it that way, but a conversation with a friend opened her eyes. ‘They were telling me that one of the biggest stress moments when they go out is going to the toilets and not feeling welcome in either… I was like “wow, I don’t understand how I could have missed this?”’

Chris Cabrera
Chris Cabrera

For small, old venues, building new toilets may not be an option – and safety for women is still a potential risk in some establishments. But there are alternatives. Elijah Harley, general manager of Manchester’s The Pilcrow Pub, says: ‘At [sister sites] Home and Common, we have “GN [Gender Neutral] with urinals” and “GN with cubicles”. But the best option is loads of cubicles, one per person… at the start of my transition the thing I found most jarring were the places that didn’t have cubicles in the gents.’

Sanitary bins in the men’s room are also: ‘A silent recognition that some men menstruate.’

Speak up

The language we use in service also needs work. With gendered language being so ingrained in our industry (especially in five-star service), moving away from ‘sir’/ ‘madam’/ ‘lady’/ ‘gentleman’ and assumed pronouns (‘he’/ ‘she’) could make a huge difference to the experience of trans and nonbinary individuals in our spaces.

If your service is so good, why does it rely on gendering

Lo Marshall

Simon Croft, director of professional and educational services at trans charity Gendered Intelligence [see box below] goes into businesses to educate on trans inclusivity. He suggests starting with gender-neutral language, then following the ‘ask, listen, respect’ approach.

As Marshall also explains: ‘I’m nonbinary. I understand how people read me, and I understand that when I get ladied, I appreciate the sentiment that is just someone trying to welcome me and be kind and polite. But I hate being ladied.’

Non-gendered language is the most non-intrusive way of greeting guests, trans or not. Cabrera educates venues on removing triggering words and greeting customers with a simple ‘hello’ – especially effective in high-end venues when more casual catch-all terms for groups (folks, gang, etc) may not feel appropriate.

For Croft, just taking five minutes to rethink our language and use terms such as ‘please can you seat this guest/customer’ can make a difference.

For Marshall, gendered language just isn’t necessary: ‘If your service is so good, why does it rely on gendering people?’

Staff savvy

Giving staff the tools they need to provide an inclusive service is essential. As well as the likes of trans-specific training that can be delivered by Gendered Intelligence, resources such as Flow Hospitality Training can be a way of integrating education on LGBTQI+ issues for your team.

In a recent article for, James Hopkins, co-founder of London Cocktail Club (LCC), told journalist Laura Foster how the company uses the platform to both educate its staff and show them that it has an inclusive culture.

‘Because it’s online, we can see who has and hasn’t done things,’ explains Hopkins of the training programme. ‘From the off we let them know we don’t put up with bullying or hate. We know that if we keep on top of it, and we’re vocal about it with staff, it becomes clear and it makes for a much safer, friendlier environment.’

L-R: Hannah Lanfear, Lo Marshall, Elijah Harley
L-R: Hannah Lanfear, Lo Marshall, Elijah Harley

Visible house rules explaining the unacceptability of transphobia, ableism, sexism, racism and more are also a way of instilling these principles in your staff, while making sure they feel able to act on any issues that might arise among guests.

Something as simple as a rainbow sticker in a window can, for Cabrera, be enough to sway them to visit a bar.

Representation behind the bar is also important, with Lanfear giving Voodoo Ray’s a shoutout for its diverse team. She explains her ‘greatest hope’ for the future is for more diversity behind the bar: ‘Guests need to walk into a bar and feel comfortable and I think there is always going to be this looking around the room to see if you’re accepted. We have a long way to go to be truly hospitable.’

Hopefully, having more of these conversations will begin to change the status quo. And once teams start a discussion around trans inclusivity, it can open conversations on inclusivity of other communities (we will be covering more on disability on in the coming weeks, get in touch at

It’s something that Croft has seen for himself when it comes to widening the scope around gender conversations on a greater scale: ‘We find that when we open up the discussions around trans inclusion we ask questions about gender that we don’t otherwise ask – we can find better solutions for everyone.’

Hannah Lanfear and Lo Marshall highlight their top educational tools for learning about trans issues

Gendered Intelligence
Working with trans youth and professionals to educate people on gender diversity and support the trans community, its trained professionals can come
into your business for a range of training sessions (face-to-face or remote) as well as ongoing consultation. There is plenty of insightful and helpful free material on its website, including ‘five tips for customer-facing staff’.

‘Inclusivity: Supporting BAME Trans People’, by Sabah Choudrey
A ‘reluctant activist on all things trans, brown and hairy’, Choudrey is a trans youth worker, psychotherapist in training and a trustee of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative. Their book takes an intersectional approach to trans issues and highlights the intricacies of being BAME and trans. It’s free to download off the website.

Good Night Out Campaign
Established in 2014 by Julia Gray and Bryony Beynon, Good Night Out started as a ‘grassroots response to sexual violence in nightlife communities’, with a belief that nights out should be about ‘fun and freedom, not fear’. The company goes into hundreds of bars and venues to offer accreditation programmes to staff, primarily around sexual violence and including how to build trans-inclusive nightlife spaces.

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen
Executive-produced by black transgender actress Laverne Cox, this 2020 documentary takes a deep dive into Hollywood’s depiction of and impact on the trans community, featuring leading trans thinkers and creators such as Bianca Leigh, Brian Michael Smith and Lilly Wachowski.

This article was first published in the 2020 autumn issue of Imbibe.

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