Transgender students seek gender-neutral restrooms on campus

By Winyan SooHoo

Some transgender students think twice before taking a trip to the nearest bathroom.

Curt McKay, the co-director for the Office for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Concerns, said labeling bathrooms specifically “male” or “female” poses a challenge to those who do not identify themselves as a certain gender or those in transition of changing their gender.

McKay said the topic of gender-neutral bathrooms is a relatively new issue for this campus; people around the community have not given thought to the needs of transgender students until recently.

The office provides resources and support to LGBT students and also supports the movement toward implementing gender-neutral bathrooms.

He said the bathrooms are necessary because people sometimes get upset or make comments when a transgender individual enters a male or female bathroom. McKay said no community members or transgender individuals have come forward with any complaints, but the topic is continually addressed when reading about transgender issues.

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    “The easiest solution to this problem is to have single-use (single stall), gender-neutral bathrooms that anyone can use – whether or not they identify themselves as male or female,” McKay said. “These bathrooms will also accommodate people who are physically disabled and for parents with young children.”

    Student groups across the country have been involved in pushing for gender-neutral bathrooms on their campuses.

    Last winter, a student group in support for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus approached the University of Chicago faculty. Bill Michel, associate dean of the college, said that since October, the school now has 15 bathrooms around its campus that are designated as gender-neutral.

    “The gender-neutral bathrooms are for students whose gender identity is such that they would prefer not to use a bathroom targeted specifically toward men or women,” Michel said. “In addition, having these bathrooms are helpful for individuals with children of the opposite gender.”

    Morgan Polikoff, co-president of PRIDE, a University LGBT Registered Student Organization, said issues such as having equal marriage rights, receiving domestic partner benefits from the University and overcoming sexual orientation discrimination are a higher priority to LGBT students at the moment – but gender-neutral bathrooms are equally as important.

    “We should try to respect all the rights of our students and faculty,” Polikoff said. “One way we can do that – which is not a big deal – is by accommodating this minority group with gender-neutral bathrooms. They lead a difficult life as it is.”

    However, McKay said one of the problems with these renovations is their expense.

    “What I hope we have, despite the expenses, is to get at least one single-use (single stall) facility in every building on campus,” McKay said. “The bathrooms are important because they provide a more welcoming atmosphere for a group of students who face a lot of stress and difficulty as they transition from their biological gender to another.”

    One place that has made some renovations on campus is the McKinley Health Center. David Lawrance, a physician at the center, said the renovation has been complete for almost a year. He said most of the bathrooms in the building are now gender-neutral and more of them are wheelchair accessible as well.

    “Gender-neutral restrooms can be more comfortable for transgendered patients to use, especially the person who has not had genital reassignment surgery,” Lawrance said. “When a restroom is not gender-designated, anyone can use any restroom.”

    Other gender-neutral bathroom locations on campus include the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory and the Library of Information Science, said Mike Thompson, the University plumbing foreman.

    Tiger Swan, a member of the Chancellor’s LGBT Advisory Committee and its transgender subcommittee, said the subcommittee is currently doing research on the topic in an attempt to later help University members make a decision and create policy changes.

    Swan, a graduate student, said before making any changes, he will have to consider state codes for buildings because sometimes codes require a certain number of male or female bathrooms.

    “Why do we have the labels on there?” Swan said, referring to male and femalebathroom labels. “Why can’t we just label them ‘toilets?'”