Restrooms not safe for some

Elizabeth Graber

Imagine what it would be like to worry that someone might call security on you just as you close the stall door. Imagine being verbally harassed and told that you don’t belong in the restroom you’ve chosen, or even being physically removed from a restroom because you don’t conform to someone’s conception of gender.

These are all very real possibilities to many people, including students here at Lawrence. There is an effective way to combat these injustices: gender-neutral restrooms.

A gender-neutral restroom is open to anyone, regardless of gender identity or expression. Because Lawrence is home to students, faculty and staff who represent a wide spectrum of gender identities, it is essential that the school provide for these Lawrentians.

Navigating gender-segregated restrooms can be especially difficult for the campus’ transgender population as well as for anyone who does not conform to society’s expected appearances and behaviors for men and women.

Many individuals face harassment, discrimination and violence when they enter a public restroom as a result of their perceived gender. To avoid such harassment, some people avoid public restrooms altogether, leading to severe health problems.

The right to use a restroom is one granted not by the government or even the school, but by the human body. No one should have to be targeted or attacked simply because of this basic human need, and no one should feel afraid or uncomfortable stepping across that undistinguished threshold.

The value of gender-neutral restrooms is not limited to those who are transgender or who have non-normative gender expressions. They can be helpful to families with children — a single father with a young daughter he needs to accompany to the restroom can’t go into a ladies’ room, but doesn’t want to bring his young child into the men’s room with him.

People who have disabilities and who require an attendant — who may be of a different gender — also have a difficult time navigating restrooms.

Single-stall gender-neutral restrooms would resolve the issue — one toilet behind a door that can be closed and locked for an individual’s privacy, comfort and safety.

We already have a few of these in campus buildings such as Memorial Hall, the Conservatory and in the group and theme houses. However, there are many more buildings — including most of the residence halls — that do not have this important resource.

Small liberal arts schools such as Oberlin and Grinnell, as well as other larger universities, have already enacted gender-neutral restroom policies on their campuses.

All campus restrooms need not be gender-neutral — only enough that someone who needs one doesn’t need to leave the building. What Lawrence needs is enough gender-neutral restrooms to provide safe options in every building.

More information and resources on gender neutral restrooms can be found at safe2pee.org. The goal of this organization is to create a national database of restrooms so people who do not feel safe in traditional public restrooms can easily find alternatives.

If you are interested in an ongoing discussion on the topic of gender neutral restrooms, please send an e-mail to ramosr@lawrence.edu.

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