The co-founder of a transgender support group says a department store's move to ditch separate men's and women's fitting rooms is "totally unnecessary".
Farmers is making its fitting rooms 'gender-neutral' after a complaint was laid by Aucklander Mary Haddock-Staniland, who was described as a "half-man, half-woman" by staff at its Botany store in June.
After an internal investigation and discussions with Ms Haddock-Staniland, Farmers yesterday said it would be overhauling its fitting rooms to remove any reference to gender.
"I think this is an opportunity for New Zealand retail overall to kind of embark on siding or looking at ways they deal with similar situations, and I look forward to this incident being a catalyst for change," says Ms Haddock-Staniland.
But her view isn't held by everyone in the transgender community. Claudia McKay, co-founder of Agender, transitioned 18 years ago.
"All that time I've shopped in Farmers stores continuously, all around the country. I have never, ever had a single issue or problem," she told TV3's Paul Henry programme.
"I think what's been happening in this individual case is more a problem with one staff member than the store itself, or the store's policies."
Ms McKay says getting rid of men's and women's fitting rooms wasn't asked for by the transgender community.
"You could ask the question of 100 different transgender people and get 100 different answers. They're like any group of people – their range of opinions on anything is extremely diverse, but I think there needs to be a degree of reason used in this case. I think making these alterations to the changing rooms is just unnecessary."
Farmers has also since apologised to Ms Haddock-Staniland.
"Her experience wasn't how it should have been," spokesperson Nikki Newton-Cross said yesterday.
Ms McKay is no longer the president of Agender. The current leadership says it backs Farmers' move.
Ms McKay says while making fitting rooms gender-neutral is simply unnecessary, doing the same with toilet facilities would probably be a bad idea – primarily for women.
"There can be security issues with gender-neutral toilets and both sexes using them, and the cleanliness. I spent the first 40 years of my life living as a male – just the existence of urinals creates a whole different ballgame. That's a different thing to changing rooms."
Men, on the other hand, could find it awkward sharing toilet facilities with women, if their behaviour around women's fitting rooms is any indication.
"I've seen men looking very uncomfortable hanging around perhaps their wives or girlfriends in the women's changing rooms," says Ms McKay. "They feel extremely uncomfortable."
The outcome of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission over Ms Haddock-Staniland's treatment at Farmers is expected next month.