Lack of all-gender restrooms excludes LGBT community


Kevin Zhagui

A customer at Espresso Royale, located at 602 E. Daniel St. in Champaign, enters one of two gender neutral bathrooms on Oct. 5, 2018.

By Emma Palatnik, Staff Writer

Two years ago, a group of students surveyed 129 campus buildings to identify where the single-user restrooms were located as part of an assignment for one of their classes. This sparked the efforts of the LGBT Resource Center to identify gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus.

The class worked with faculty and staff to come up with a checklist to help them identify appropriate information about each bathroom.

“It’s important that you know other things about the bathroom: Is the bathroom accessible by a wheelchair? Is there a deadbolt? How is the bathroom marked? Is it marked as a gender-neutral single-use restroom? Or has the new signage, the gender-inclusive signage, been added to it?” said Jacqueline Beard, McKinley Health Center staff psychologist and former LGBT Resource Center advisory committee chair. “Does it have a changing station, for example, for somebody that might have children?”

When the year finished, the project wasn’t officially complete. There were still 151 buildings left to survey. During her last year as the advisory committee chair, Beard decided it was necessary to finish surveying campus buildings for gender-inclusive restrooms.

“I said, ‘This is just ridiculous that this hasn’t been completed yet,’” Beard said. “So if we’re really going to try and get something done this year that’s tangible and concrete — and this is my last year — I want us to get something done. The committee, they backed me up, basically, and said, ‘you want to do this, let’s do this.’”

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The committee created two events, one in the fall and one in the spring. They organized scavenger hunts, where volunteers helped go through campus buildings and identify gender-inclusive restrooms. A total of 60 volunteers helped across both scavenger hunts.

For the remaining restrooms, a couple of committee members set aside some time to survey the rest.

With the completed project, Beard wanted to find a way to make the information available. The LGBT Resource Center has a copy of the file available on its website.

Beard reached out to people in Information Technology to look for other ways to share the information. She contacted Joel Steinfeldt, an editor and policy analyst at the University who runs the campus map. Beard said Steinfeldt saw this information as important and offered to add this information to the campus map.

Once the information is available, users will be able to click a link on the campus map that says “single-use restrooms.” It will list where in the building the bathroom is located.

Beard and the LGBT Advisory Committee hope to create a mobile application with the gender-inclusive restroom information. They also want to integrate other information, like which bathrooms are wheelchair-accessible and which ones have changing stations.

The driving force behind the surveying project, Beard said, is because transgender students, faculty, staff, visitors and other folks do not feel safe using multi-stall restrooms.

“That’s for many reasons, not just the fact that trans people are way more likely to be attacked, experience violence and discrimination,” Beard said. “It has happened on this campus and many other places where a trans person has walked into a multi-stall restroom and somebody has said something to them about (how) they shouldn’t be there or reported them. Nobody should have to worry about feeling safe and having to use the restroom.”

However, it is not only transgender people who benefit from gender-inclusive bathrooms; families, parents, people with trauma, people who have been assaulted and those with anxiety disorders also benefit.

Sarah Colome, Women’s Resources Center director, said in an email that when places have gender-specific restrooms without a gender-inclusive option, it can create a feeling of exclusion for gender-queer people. She said at the end of the day, everyone deserves to feel safe when using the bathroom.

“Providing gender-neutral restrooms is a way for a location or company to assert that they recognize the humanity of all people and that we shouldn’t be limited to prescribed notions of gender,” Colome wrote.

Leslie Morrow, LGBT Resource Center director, said gender-inclusive bathrooms are important because everyone needs to use the bathroom.

“There are students, staff and faculty that do not feel safe and basically have not gone to the bathroom all day until they can get to a space where they feel safe to do so,” Morrow said. “That has serious implications for their health, physical as well as mental and emotional.”

Beard said the committee sees this as an accessibility issue because everyone should be able to access and use restrooms. If our campus is truly going to be accessible, she said, we need restrooms that meet the needs of everyone and that they also feel safe using.

One of the things Morrow said they are working on at the center is training and education, to help people understand why gender-inclusive bathrooms are important.

They plan to release PSAs explaining the importance of gender-inclusive restrooms, but also other pieces on issues like the importance of pronouns.

Beard said she thinks many people don’t understand why gender-inclusive bathrooms are important. The fact is, she said, that every human on the planet needs to use the restroom; it’s one aspect of life which all people share no matter who they are or what they look like.

“If you’ve never had to think twice about what restroom you use, then you’ve got a privilege that you haven’t recognized, because there are people who have to worry about this everyday,” Beard said.

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