Examining the Need for Gender Neutral Bathrooms on Campus

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(photo from ‘itspronouncedmetrosexual.com)

 

For many students at the U, using a bathroom on campus is only as hard as finding a relatively clean one.

For others, it’s more complicated than that. There are few restrooms accessible for families, people with disabilities and individuals who are gender nonconforming. Although there have been steps taken to address this issue, such as last year’s inclusion of a gender-neutral restroom in the library, these single stalls can be difficult to locate or have restricted access.

While it may seem strange to place such importance on bathrooms, a lack of accessible space can have severe consequences for these individuals. According to a 2011 survey of over 6,000 transgender people from the National Center for Trans Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, over half the participants reported being harassed and 10 percent were attacked in public spaces like restrooms.

Additionally, not having accessible bathrooms for all people can deter someone from going somewhere that doesn’t have proper accommodations. This goes beyond needing a wheelchair accessible stall, which is required by law. According to American Restroom Association, people who need extra privacy due to things like shy-bladder or an ostomy pouch – a medical device that collects waste from a surgically diverted system – benefit from unisex restrooms. And for families, single-stall bathrooms can allow for greater mobility for parents to care for their children while maintaining their family’s safety and privacy.

Shireen Ghorbani, a communications specialist in Facilities Management, said it’s important to have different voices weighing in to analyze these new projects. Organizations like the U’s access committee, which include members from Disability Services, look over new projects and potential renovations to highlight areas on campus that could be more accessible. For example, Ghorbani said lactation rooms were added to some buildings for women who are breastfeeding so that they can do so privately if they wish.

Ghorbani said the lack of a variety of restrooms comes from two main issues, the first being a historical precedent.

“For a very long time even ADA accessible or wheelchair accessible bathrooms were sort of just wedged into existing buildings because they were built before that code even ever existed,” Ghorbani said.

Plumbing also acts as a roadblock to constructing new bathrooms. While pricing varies on size, age of the building and extent of the project, a new or remodeled bathroom can cost thousands of dollars.

“Any time that we have the opportunity to remodel a space, looking at putting in another stall next to existing bathrooms or even in areas where there isn’t one can be a pretty expensive rework,” Ghorbani said. “That certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing it or aren’t looking at it because we are, but I would say that’s the biggest challenge.”

Ghorbani said students can also help to create a more safe and inviting space for everyone on campus by “raising awareness about the vast diversity on our campus and having a little bit of awareness and sensibility.”

“For example, if you don’t really need that single-stall bathroom, make sure that space stays open as much as possible for the people who really do need it,” Ghorbani said.

Ghorbani said that Facilities Management hopes to integrate a list of spaces like unisex bathrooms and lactation rooms onto the campus map in order to make them more accessible to more students soon.

For a complete map of campus lactation rooms and family friendly restrooms, visit http://tour.mapsalive.com/39282/page2.htm. For a complete list with directions and additional information on unisex restrooms, visit http://lgbt.utah.edu/campus/restrooms.php.

k.ehmann@chronicle.utah.edu
@EhmannKy

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