Colleges add gender neutral bathrooms

Many colleges and universities are adding gender neutral bathrooms  also known as “all-gender,” “unisex” or “all family” bathrooms — for their LGBT and straight college students. Often, a facility that decides to add a gender neutral bathroom only has to change the sign on the door of a single-stall restroom.

Over 150 college and universities have added gender neutral bathrooms. (Credit: NYU Local)

Over 150 college and universities have added gender neutral bathrooms. (Credit: NYU Local)

There are more than 150 colleges and universities with gender neutral bathrooms including New York University, Ohio University, University of Colorado and Kent State University. Schools post notices on where gender neutral bathrooms are located around the college campus.

Safe from stress and danger

Gender neutral bathrooms offer not only a place where students who do not identify with conforming male or female gender identity can go, but also safety and comfort. Being forced to select a gender specific bathroom often outs transgendered students who may feel stigmatized among their peers and who oftentimes face discrimination, harassment and even violence.

In its Frequently Asked Questions on Gender neutral Restrooms, University of Massachusetts explains: “Persons who are not easily legible as male or female often experience various forms of intimidation in these places. If a woman in a women’s-only restroom is assumed to be a man, there may be real threats to her comfort and even safety.” Moreover, “Members of the transgender community face specific concerns and threats to safety depending on how they are read in certain situations. Choosing a sex-coded restroom is one of the most frequently reported sources of anxiety in this community.”

In the study, “Gendered Restrooms and Minority Stress: The Public Regulation of Gender and Its Impact on Transgender People’s Lives,” by Jody L. Herman at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 70 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents experienced problems in gender specific bathrooms in Washington, D.C. “Respondents reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms. These experiences impacted respondents’ education, employment, health, and participation in public life,” according to the report. People of color and people who have not medically transitioned often fared worse than others.

Universities add gender neutral bathrooms

This fall Northwestern University will add gender neutral bathrooms to its campus. Michelle Margulis, president of NU’s Rainbow Alliance LGBT student group remarked: “These are two gender-open bathrooms where students of any gender can go in, and use the restroom, and feel safe, regardless of gender expression or gender identity,” reported Kim Bellware in “Gender neutral Bathrooms Are Quietly Becoming The New Thing At Colleges” posted July 18, 2014, in Huffington Post.

Illinois State University recently added gender neutral bathrooms. Michael Shane McCreery, director and ethics officer in the Office of Equal Opportunity, Ethics and Access, said the reason for implementing the new bathrooms evidences the university’s efforts to have an inclusive environment. He added that the school tries to be both proactive and reactive and that small changes can have a big impact.

It’s about time

Some colleges are happy to make the minor changes needed to provide gender neutral bathrooms. Others need a bit more persuasion with some battles taking increasingly legalistic turns. Colleen Flaherty reported in “Right to Gender neutral Spaces” posted April 23, 2014, on Inside Higher Education: “The U.S. Education and Justice Departments last year found that a California school district violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by barring a transgender student from sex-specific facilities and activities.” In addition, a transgender student at Piedmont Community College threatened to file a federal complaint after she allegedly was escorted off campus after using the women’s bathroom, consistent with her gender identity.

In 2012, student Blair Moses went on a hunger strike to demand that University of Minnesota at Duluth install gender neutral bathrooms. Moses explained that gender specific restrooms were oppressive and problematic. A day into the strike, the school’s Chancellor Lendley C. Black agreed with the demands by designating two restrooms on campus as gender neutral and pledged to construct new restrooms.

Approval of ADA and families

Gender neutral or all-family bathrooms also meet accessibility regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disabled people who need assistance from a family member or attendant of the opposite gender feel more comfortable in gender neutral bathrooms. Moreover, families who help small children use a bathroom find gender neutral bathrooms safe, especially a mother with a son or a father with a daughter.

Do you think having gender neutral bathrooms on campus is a good idea?

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