MANCHESTER, U.K. – Concerns are being raised as an international clothing retailer has confirmed that its changing rooms are to be considered “gender neutral” following a controversial incident in one of its U.K. stores.
Travis Alabanza, a man who identifies as a female and uses the pronoun “they” to describe himself, was recently shopping with friends at a Topshop store in Manchester when he attempted to enter a women’s changing room. However, he was stopped by an attendant, who told him that he would have to use a men’s changing room.
“She wasn’t rude, but she wasn’t sympathetic either,” Alabanza stated.
When the store employee directed Alabanza to try on his clothes in a men’s changing room downstairs, he became upset and frustrated.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to be safe down there. What do you want me to do?’ And they just kind of shrugged,” Alabanza, who was wearing a dress and makeup at the time, recounted.
Topshop is a British fashion retailer that sells men’s and women’s clothing in the U.K., the U.S., and around the world. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Alabanza expressed his displeasure with the chain for how they treated him.
“I normally online shop for this reason,” he said. “But we were going in a group, 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.”
“My day instantly became politicized when all I wanted was a chill day shopping,” he added.
Following the incident, Alabanza took to Twitter to criticize the international retail chain.
“Hey @Topshop just experienced transphobia in your Manchester store,” he wrote. “Not letting me use the changing room I decide is [expletive], sort it out.”
In another tweet, he described gender-specific changing rooms as “dangerous” because they put “trans shoppers at risk from harassment from other shoppers.”
“Who made you in charge of deciding who is woman enough to use your changing room?” he asked.
Soon afterward, Topshop released a statement advising that it had updated the company’s changing room policy to allow all customers to use whatever facilities they prefer.
“Both the Topshop and Topman fitting rooms are available for all customers to use,” a spokesperson with the company said.
According to reports, the decision had already been made during the summer, but not all employees were aware of the new policy.
The retail chain’s announcement immediately drew concerns, including from the founder of a U.K. parenting organization committed to helping parents and teens navigate difficult sexual issues.
“A huge part of the market for Topshop are teenage girls and young women,” said Stephanie Davies-Arai, founder of Transgender Trend, in an interview with the Daily Express. “Topshop is saying the needs of one male who identifies as a woman are more important than a large section of its market.”
“There will be a lot of parents of teenage girls and young women themselves who will boycott Topshop because they don’t feel safe,” Davies-Arai added. “It is putting women and girls at risk. It is unbelievable that a high street store could countenance the safety and privacy of women and girls and not take that into account.”