Students organize for gender neutral bathrooms

By Mohamed Adan

Originally published in the December 2014 issue. 

In August, the town of Fayetteville, Arkansas passed an ordinance forbidding businesses from violating the civil rights of residents. Among its clauses, the ordinance banned discrimination based on gender identity. This would allow transgender people in Fayetteville to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity without fear of [official] backlash.

Some folks weren’t too happy with the Fayetteville ordinance. One prominent detractor has been Arkansas resident and reality TV star, Michelle Duggar. Duggar, matriarch of TLC’s “19 kids & Counting” Is known to regularly incite anti-LGBT prejudices.  Over the summer, she recorded a robocall to thousands of Fayetteville residents warning that “the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children” was in grave danger because “males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female” would be allowed to use the bathroom.

Thousands of people have signed a petition demanding TLC cancel Dugger’s show, decrying what they see as bogus and transphobic fear mongering. However, close to sixty thousand people have signed a counter-petition endorsing Duggar’s views and hailing her as a spokeswoman for “traditional values.”

In the United States, transgender and Genderqueer people face widespread discrimination in all areas of life.  A nationwide study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed that 61% of transgender and Genderqueer people reported facing serious acts of discrimination that would have “a major impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally.” These included firings, evictions, denials of medical service, and school bullying.

Public bathrooms are the scenes of the most hostile treatment of transgender and Genderqueer people.Other people using the bathrooms often react negatively to their non-conformity with the gender binary. In a study conducted in Washington D.C by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, 70% of transgender and Genderqueer people reported being verbally abused, harassed, or denied access when attempting to use public bathrooms. 9% reported being physically assaulted.

Because of the discomfort and lack of safety that public, gender-specific bathrooms represent for transgender and Genderqueer people, colleges and universities across the country are adopting gender-neutral bathrooms. Gender-neutral bathrooms are typically lockable, single-stall units that provide transgender and Genderqueer students a safe place to use the bathroom.

At Seattle Central, the campus Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) has launched a campaign to bring more gender-neutral bathrooms to campus. Currently Seattle Central has only two gender-neutral bathrooms, both adjacent to one another on the third floor of the Broadway Edison Building. However, many students and faculty do not know where these gender-neutral bathrooms are. This may have something to due with the fact that neither signage nor the school map indicate their location.

Kelli Verity is a Seattle Central student who identifies as Genderqueer. For the past year or so, Verity has struggled with gender dysphoria.

It’s this “really horrible thing,” Verity says. “You look in the mirror, you see what you really are, but you don’t want to believe it…because you can’t believe it, because everything you know about yourself, to your core, isn’t what you’re seeing. “

Verity prefers to use one of the two gender-neutral bathrooms, but many times they have been locked, unclean, or lacking essentials like toilet paper and paper towels. This has forced Verity to use the women’s bathroom.

In the women’s bathroom, some students have reacted to Verity’s appearance with apparent shock and alarm.

“It makes me feel awful. I don’t want to make other people scared, or feel uncomfortable, or feel intruded upon,” Verity says.

Zane Rapinan is the president of the QSA. Like Verity, Zane identifies as Genderqueer. This quarter Rapinan was enrolled in a two-credit physical conditioning class with instructor Kelli Murphy. Rapinan was not comfortable using the gender-specific locker rooms, and when informed of this Murphy was extremely accommodating and directed Rapinan to a men’s restroom that could be locked and used by transgender and Genderqueer students.

However, this arrangement did not work out because other people knocked aggressively on the locked door, making Rapinan feel very uncomfortable.

In the twenty years she’s been teaching at Seattle Central, Murphy has had about ten transgender and Genderqueer students. This quarter she has three.

Murphy is hopeful that the college will invest in more gender-neutral facilities , and provide better signage for existing ones.

“I want my transgender students to feel safe and respected,” Murphy says.

When the Circuit reached out to the college for comment on the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms, Director of Facilities Chuck  Davis emailed a statement reading: “The President’s Cabinet is aware of the rising interest in providing better access to single occupant restrooms designed for use by all genders.”

The statement also said a bathroom in the MAC building was in the process of being “re-designated” as a “single occupant restroom intended for use by all genders,” and that the Facilities Operations and Management Advisory Committee (FOMAC) was preparing a report

“outlining an estimate of costs for creating additional gender-neutral restrooms and to determine what if any relevant regulations or code requirements exist.”

Other colleges in the region have been hailed as exemplary for their gender-neutral bathroom policies. Washington State University requires all extensively renovated buildings to include a gender-neutral space, and the University of Washington has invested in a plan to bring a gender-neutral bathroom to every building in their Seattle campus.

Both Rapinan and Verity said that they hope Seattle Central will also make gender-neutral bathrooms a priority. For them, it is a matter of safety and inclusion.


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