Refuge Restrooms App Provides Haven for Trans People

(Spectrumbot) #1

There are many things that cisgender adults have the luxury of taking for granted that transgender persons cannot afford to do. One of those is using the restroom. For many transgender individuals, something as routine as going pee means a choice between two uncomfortable--even dangerous--alternatives.

“Many trans folk face the choice of being yelled at in one bathroom or physically assaulted in the other, so there is a lot of fear,” says Teagan Widmer, the founder of Refuge Restrooms, an application for transgender individuals.

“I know trans people who routinely ‘hold it’ when they are out just to avoid the bathroom. Holding it on a regular basis can increase the chance of UTI's, so its a major issue.”

Teagan is a graduate of Pacific Union College, the daughter of an Adventist pastor, and a trans woman. Just over a week ago, Teagan launched an iOS application designed to take some of the anxiety out of taking a trip to the restroom.

The Refuge Restrooms app, based on a website she created in February 2014, provides an overlay on Google Maps of restrooms deemed safe for transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals--segments of society that face widespread discrimination and alarmingly high suicide rates.

When she graduated from PUC’s English Department in 2010, coding and app-making was not on Teagan’s radar.

“I was the first graduate of the English BA, Theatre Emphasis program. After that I went to Virginia Commonwealth University for a MFA in Theatre Pedagogy.”

She wanted to teach Theatre Arts at an Adventist college, but that goal never panned out.

“I had an interview at PUC. Didn't get the offer. I couldn't seem to find any job teaching. This was in 2012, when the job market was really tough.”

Teagan transitioned in 2012, and says she knew at that point that she would probably never work in Adventism (though she is still open to the idea, she says). So she refocused on programming. Teagan taught herself Ruby, a computer programming language, and that opened new doors.

“My job title is Software Engineer at FutureAdvisor, a finance tech startup. We help people analyze their investment accounts and prepare for retirement.”

Teagan is entirely self taught and is one of the only people at FutureAdvisor who doesn't have a degree in software engineering. She has added Javascript, HTML, and CSS to her coding repertoire, and in her spare time, applies her skills to the Refuge Restrooms project.

“Refuge happened because I needed a project to teach myself how to program,” she says.

The project grew out of a similar application that went defunct.

“At first i was going to learn iOS, and build the iOS app myself, but I discovered that the API (application program interface) I had planned on using from a website called Safe2Pee was completely dead. The database was offline, and there was no way to access it. Suddenly the project was much bigger. I needed to start from scratch and rebuild the website and database and create a series of APIs that a phone client could interact with.”

Teagan used Safe2Pee early in her male to female transition. “It was a lifesaver for me, and the fact that the resource was gone was really terrible!”

Teagan hopes the Refuge app will provide a safe haven for trans people on the internet. She has plans to expand the website to encompass emergency housing for trans individuals.

“Homelessness is one of the other biggest issues. When I was unemployed, luckily I had parents who cared about me a lot even through my transition. I was able to move in with them until I was able to secure a minimum wage job and move out on my own, but for many people they are not that lucky.”

Teagan says she knows many homeless persons living on the streets, couch surfing, in and out of shelters. Some engaging in survival sex work to be able to not live on the streets, she says. “So hopefully refuge can expand and include couchsurfing as part of what we can map.”

The iOS app is easy to use, but reveals a glaring need. After downloading the app on my iPhone, I immediately began looking for safe restrooms in my area. I found a small handful in Riverside, California, but none at all marked in nearby Loma Linda. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any safe restrooms in that town, but none have been designated.

The app relies on users to help identify and designate safe restrooms. The app is worldwide, and its database is especially robust in larger U.S. cities--San Francisco, Las Vegas, Portland, OR, Washington, DC, and New York City.

“We do have an Android application planned,” Teagan says. “It's in development. If folks know Java, we would love the help.”

The Android project’s github repository is at

Until the Android app drops, the safe restrooms database is always accessible on the web:

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Daneen Akers) #2

Talk about using your talents to contribute some tangible good in the world! And as a fellow PUC English alum, this makes me so proud. There is so much misinformation and fear around gender identity (much of which conflates and confuses gender identity with sexual orientation, which are not the same thing), and most of the time we are all the same and need the same things–including a clean and safe place to use the restroom! Glad this is available as a resource.

(@mackenzian) #3

I was really pleased to interview Teagan about this project last year, shortly after the site launched. It’s great to see the app out now and hope the updated Android version soon follows!

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate. Some states have been discussing laws to limit trans people’s access to public restrooms, an indignity that, as Jared wrote, cisgender/gender-conforming people don’t have to factor into daily living.

Proud of you, Teagan! Thank you for using your training and gifts for good—not just good that benefits you as an individual, but good that provides higher service to the wider world.

(Kade Wilkinson) #4

It looks like all of the Planet Fitness locker rooms can be added.

Perhaps Yvette Cormier will download the app to assist in her search for a new gym.

(Jared Wright) #5

Thanks Kade, that’s helpful info.

(Jonathan Cook) #6

So happy to see Teagan’s accomplishments displayed in this article. A genuinely needed contribution to society. It is remarkable that Adventist media would write a piece about transgender people, yet alone a positive one. Thank you, Spectrum! I had the privilege to attend Pacific Union College with Teagan, and am happy to call her my friend. So proud!

(Steve Mga) #7

Seventh day Adventists are known for
1] Bringing breakfast food to the world.
2] Assisting peanut growers with Peanut Butter.
3] Breakfast meats for vegies to enjoy.
4] Safe Bathrooms from harassment and assault.
Perhaps NEXT!
5] Safe SDA Churches.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #9

respect for privacy includes personal safety, today’s freedom of travel exceeds human biological functions. Thus. The airline solution of private secure restroom/lavatories maybe the best solution. Public restrooms, such as the YMC hotel restrooms, have been notorious havens of sexual adventureism: Including adventurists such as White House Advisors and college presidents. Thus my recommendation is a total redesign of public restrooms.

Ben Carson’s recent comment on ex convicts highlights the need of secure privacy in all circumstances.

Thus this is a national issue that needs public and political attention beyond any local fund drive. Tom Z

(Sherlock1) #10

"For many transgender individuals, something as routine as going pee means a choice between two uncomfortable–even dangerous–alternatives.

“Many trans folk face the choice of being yelled at in one bathroom or physically assaulted in the other, so there is a lot of fear,” says Teagan Widmer, the founder of Refuge Restrooms, an application for transgender individuals."

Simple solution: Certain God given body parts define whether you are male or female. Follow the proper picture label or title on the walls and doors. Enter that room and relieve yourself in the proper receptacle. That was easy!

It is not realistic to have a MEN, WOMEN, and CONFUSED category and build three bathrooms. (Inappropriate. - website editor)

(Steve Mga) #11

It is evident that you do not know anything about Transgender Individuals.
It is evident that you have never met any Transgender Individuals, at least
long enough to have discussions with them.
Perhaps you need to get out more.

(Elmer Cupino) #12

Praise the Lord! For once, we can all agree with you. Not “three bathrooms.” Four bathrooms instead.


(Sherlock1) #13

They are either a male or a female. End of story (from Genesis).

(Sherlock1) #14

So then what will the boarding schools do with their residence halls that are for men or women? Need 4 residence halls? Really now! I say forget the transgender and stay with the gender God made you to be.

(k_Lutz) #15

Perhaps if all were in cahoots with God and His Creation, the evidence of unconditional love and acceptance would be apparent to those that find themselves outside of social norms. Then again, I have seen not evidence of animals abdicating their parental rights and responsibilities and sending their spawn off to be ‘educated’ by those that don’t Get It.

Trust God.

(Carolyn Parsons) #16

If God is the one that Jesus pointed to in his life, I am reasonable certain that God loves all his children, including the transgender. If God is a judgmental unfeeling overlord, then we have to ignore the life of Jesus.

The reality is that we are not all either male or female. How about intersex people? Intersex people are not either male or female according to standard definitions. Transgender people may not fit standard definitions, but their gender identity exists and for some reason it rattles the sensibilities of some people; often Christians who claim to be followers of the one who gave his life for all.

(efcee) #17

What a great ministry to the transgender community! Congratulations to Teagan for her achievement and her compassion. And congratulations to her parents for their support and compassion as well.

(efcee) #18

The two bathrooms should be sufficient for all of us…unless some of us are either cruel or ignorant.

(OKW) #19

While I could write reams and reams of words here…I’ll leave it at this. I’m really proud of Teagan for making this contribution to the world and making it safer for many. She’s the best.


So easy that some will attempt to complicate it. Although your proposed solution annoyed the Moderator maybe it has some value. Maybe it could be called “Other,”

(Elmer Cupino) #21

God has nothing to do with this issue. Don’t involve Him.

The problem lies in the principle of “Beauty depends on the eye of the beholder.” His children have “ranked” gender against His advice as in 2 Corinthians 6:18, "And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” That is, unless you prefer one child over the other in your family which is your business. However, please do not project your inner world among other believers.

“The two bathrooms should be sufficient for all of us…unless some of us are either cruel or ignorant.” - @efcee Thanks efcee.