Gender-neutral bathrooms, a growing norm

Opinion graphic

You have probably already seen the notices posted on many bathrooms across the K-State campus in the past weeks. The signs, administered by the K-State Women’s Studies Department, invite bathroom-goers to use whichever bathroom corresponds with their gender identity.

The policy has been in place since at least May of 2015, according to Jason Tidd’s Collegian article “K-State internal practice allows individuals to choose bathroom based on gender identity.” These signs simply reinforce the standing universitywide policy.

This policy is a great step forward; it shifts focus onto a person’s gender identity rather than biological sex, allowing for a more open and accepting community on campus.

K-State is not the only institution to have such policies. It is a growing movement to not only allow students to use whichever bathroom they align with, but to have completely gender-neutral facilities, something I believe K-State should consider.

“Bathrooms are one of the most incendiary battlegrounds in the transgender community’s ongoing fight for civil rights,” Katy Steinmetz said in her Time article “The gender-neutral bathroom revolution is growing.”

One example is harassment, Sasha Buchert, staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center, said in the article.

“Having gender-specific restrooms can create unnecessary risks that lead to transgender or gender non-conforming folks to be harassed,” Buchert said in the article.

More than 150 U.S. colleges and universities, as well as a number of cities, have gender-neutral bathrooms. Even the White House added one in April, according to the TIME article.

There are numerous advantages for having gender-neutral bathrooms.

Parents could take their children of a different gender to use the restroom, and caretakers for the elderly and disabled could do the same. Long, congested lines for one bathroom could be diminished since anyone could use any bathroom. But most importantly, those who are not cisgender or do not align directly with their biological sex would finally feel a sense of inclusion.

A common argument against the conversion to inclusive bathrooms is the perceived increased risk of sexual assault.

The Collegian recently wrapped up its sexual assault series, which was run in efforts to raise awareness on a variety of topics relating to sexual violence. The paper even went so far as to use the hashtag #ItHappensHere. The importance of this topic is no secret at K-State, and the problem with the prevailing and very popular argument that gender-neutral bathrooms incite such violence is that it is not at all fact-based and completely ideological.

Places with gender-neutral, multiple-person bathrooms report no complaints, harassment or violence, according to the Heartland Trans Wellness Group article “Gender Neutral Bathrooms.”

It is the job of school administrators to make sure students are safe, as well as evolving academically and socially.

When a person is forced to use a bathroom he or she is not comfortable using due to gender identity, there is an increased risk of “psychological effects, such as anxiety and fear of harassment,” and physical risks, such as “UTIs and other medical problems,” according to the “Gender-Neutral Bathroom Initiative” page of Vassar College’s LGBTQ Center’s website.

K-State’s current bathroom policy is a great step forward, but there is still progress to be made. Allowing students to choose a bathroom for themselves depending on their own identity is noble, but does not, however, include those who do not align with the gender binary and are not categorized as simply male or female.

I think K-State should join the movement and take their bathroom policies a step further to designate at least a few gender-neutral bathrooms on campus to show our support for the inclusion of the transgender community.

The change would affect everyone, and as with all big changes, there would be resistance. This would not be the first time, however, that the majority feels uncomfortable or excluded by the inclusion of a minority population.