Central Question: How might gender-neutral bathrooms on campus affect students’ wellbeing and comfortability?
Introduction: After the passing and ultimate repeal of House Bill 2 by North Carolina legislature, which excluded transgender citizens from discrimination protections and prohibited them from using public restrooms aligned with their gender identity, the debate of gendered bathrooms has become polarizing topic. Arguments against HB2 argued that transgender Americans are entitled to safety and comfortability, while argument for the bill claimed that choice in restrooms breads predatory behavior and should be something to fear. However, the topic is now expanding to influence not only include trans, but non-binary people as well. A study by the Trevor Project found that one in four LGBTQ+ members of Gen Z are nonbinary, falling outside the traditional categories of “male” and “female.” This begs the question, how do the increasing number of genderqueer youth complicate the topic of public bathrooms? And specifically at Davidson, what are the potential impacts of gendered versus gender-neutral bathrooms on student wellbeing and comfortability?
Intended Audience: Students of all gender identities should participate in this discussion, as they will all be impacted by decisions in bathroom policies. Trans and gender non-conforming students must be supported and encouraged to voice their opinion in this conversation, as they have been historically excluded from discussion of their own bodily autonomy. Thus, Queers&Allies could be a potential group to pull participants from. Those who have experienced gender-based harassment should also have a say in their comfortability in these public spaces, thus reaching out to Students Against Sexual Violence also might add a valuable perspective. Additionally, staff members from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion should also be included since they yield power to affect bathroom policies and infrastructure on campus that influences students’ everyday life and safety. Counselors from the Center for Student Health and Wellbeing who specialize in LGBTQ+ concerns would also provide a level of expertise on how this issue affects mental and physical health. Finally, the PCC E-Board must also be present in this discussion, since eating houses and frats continue to be among the only buildings without bathroom options for gender non-conforming students.
Background: Trigger Warning: References to Self-Harm and Sexual Abuse
To understand the relevance of gender-neutral bathrooms at Davidson, first one must be aware of the consequences of limited bathroom options for people of all gender expressions. Bathrooms can be one of the most stress inducing places on college campuses for trans and gender non-conforming students. According to the American Medical Association, when TGNC students are denied access to bathrooms that match their gender identity, they are at risk of numerous negative health outcomes, as well as verbal and physical harassment. Nearly 70% of transgender youth surveyed by the AMA reported verbal harassment and 9% reported experiences of physical assault in gender-segregated bathrooms. In a journal published by the National Institutes of Health, among the TGNB youth who experienced bathroom discrimination, 85% reported depressive mood and 60% seriously considered suicide.
In arguments for using bathrooms aligned with ones prescribed “birth gender,” people cite the potential saftey risk for cis-gendered students. However, in reality, TGNC students are the most vulnerable in binary restrooms. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan Schools of Public Health, 36% of TGNC students with restricted bathroom access reported being sexually assaulted in the last 12 months.
However, some TGNC students avoid public restrooms altogether. In a Human Right Campaign survey of 12000 LGBTQ teenagers, 65% of trans youth reported that they try not to use the bathroom in school. This avoidance can have serious medical consequences, including recurrent urinary tract infections, as well as the possibility of more serious health complications, including chronic kidney disease.
In light of these findings of harassment and emotional distress caused by gendered restrooms, many college campuses have begun exploring the alternatives. At Boston University, 43 restrooms distributed evenly across campus were converted into all-gendered spaces. The University of California, one of the first colleges to write a comprehensive policy on gender-inclusive restrooms, cites 5 lessons when converting bathrooms in gender neutral areas.
- Converting existing single-occupancy restrooms is the most cost-effective solution
- Deciding how to label gender-inclusive restrooms is a more important decision than you might think (certain labels can be confusing, exclusive, or even offensive) Here is a link to bathroom signs that affirm gender diversity.
- Ensure gender-inclusive restrooms are distributed evenly across campus (This maximizes the number of students who can reach them)
- Converting gendered restrooms into gender-inclusive ones may affect compliance with laws and building codes
- Consider student privacy when making multi-stall restrooms gender-inclusive (Students are often most comfortable using this type of restroom if each toilet and urinal has a floor-to-ceiling stall)
Shared Language: Each individual coming into the discussion will have varying perspectives and knowledge on the topic of genderqueer identities and experiences. Thus, it is essential to provide inclusive, affirming language that can be used throughout the discussion.
Language to Avoid:
- Using the word “transgender” as a noun. E.g. “She is a transgender.” Instead, use transgender as an adjective E.g. “She is transgender.”
- “It” as a pronoun. If unsure of someone’s pronouns, simply ask or opt for “they/them”
- “Transvestite” and “Transsexual” (While some elder members of the LGBTQ+ community may self-identify with these words, transgender is a more commonly accepted term that is not seen as offensive)
Important Definitions according to Medical News Today:
- Gender: A person’s gender is how they identify internally and how they express this externally. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that gender is a social construction that people typically describe in terms of femininity and masculinity. In Western cultures, people associate femininity with women and masculinity with men, but this social construction varies across cultures.
- Sex: A person’s sex is typically based on certain biological factors, such as their reproductive organs, genes, and hormones. Like gender, sex is not binary. A person may have the genes that people may associate with being male or female, but their reproductive organs, genitals, or both may look different.
- Gender-neutral Bathroom: a restroom that anyone of any gender can use. Gender-neutral restrooms can be single occupant or multi stall.
Common Gender Identities as Defined by The Trevor Project:
- Cisgender: A cisgender person identifies with the sex that they were assigned at birth.
- Nonbinary: A person who does not experience gender within the gender binary of “male” or “female”
- Transgender: This is an umbrella term that encompasses all people who experience and identify with a different gender than that which their assigned sex at birth would suggest.
- Genderqueer/Gender Non-conforming: A person who has a gender identity or expression that is not the same as society’s expectations for their assigned sex or assumed gender.
- TGNC: transgender and gender non-conforming
- Genderfluid: A person who has a gender identity and presentation that shifts between, or shifts outside of, society’s expectations of gender.
- Two Spirit: an umbrella term that encompasses different sexualities and genders in Indigenous Native American communities.
- Agender: A person who does not identify with any particular gender, or they may have no gender at all.
Conversation Agreements: Listening to students’ lived experiences surrounding bathrooms is the best way to ensure that their needs are made the number one priority. This is why there needs to be procedures in place to protect all voices and foster an environment of respect while having this challenging conversation.
Therefore in the deliberation it is imperative that ALL participants must:
- be empathetic to the experiences of students regardless of how they identify.
- be willing to challenge their assumptions and previous knowledge on bathroom preferences.
- engage in active listening while others are speaking
- understand that not everyone (not every trans/genderqueer, not every woman/man, Davidson student, etc) shares the same feelings, and experiences in regards to public restrooms.
Introduction: 5 min
Shared Language: 5 min
Conversation Agreements: 5 min
Background: 15 min (Participants will read to themselves and will be given extra time for individual research if needed)
Small group discussions: 5 min (Discuss initial reactions, opinions, and questions to background information)
Large group discussions: 10 min (Discuss initial reactions, opinions, and questions)
Deliberation on Gender-Neutral Bathrooms at Davidson: 30 min
Reflections and Action Plans: 15 min
Group Discussion Questions to Consider:
- What are your impressions of the HB2 Bill?
- What were your first reactions to the background information provided?
- Have you thought about this topic before/have experience with gender-neutral bathrooms?
Guiding Questions for Deliberation on Gender Neutral Bathrooms at Davidson:
- Do you know where the gender-neutral bathrooms are on campus? If not, pull up the map here.
- Who might have easy access to these bathrooms? Who might not have access?
- Do you think there are enough to sustainably provide for all gender queer people on campus, or people uncomfortable using gendered bathrooms?
- What might be the effects of the current gender-neutral bathrooms in the basement of Chambers/Belk? Consider how making these spaces separate might increase stigma/discrimination.
- What might be some perks of gender-neutral bathrooms for cis-gendered students and faculty?
- Discuss the implications of creating single-occupancy vs multiple-occupancy restrooms that are open to all genders? Think back to the background information and the University of California bathroom suggestions. What might the effects of more private floor-to ceiling stalls be at Davidson?
- What might be some economic costs/spatial limitations of constructing new bathrooms? How might we overcome these?
Reflections and Action Steps: In order to collect student and faculty opinions about the deliberation, each participant will write down their thoughts on the following questions below. If they answer yes to the last question, they will be included in an email thread that sends more information, a possible petition for more bathroom options, and dates for future meetings about this issue.
- What is something new that you discovered in this deliberation?
- Did you challenge any of your previous assumptions about gender identity, student wellbeing, gender-based harassment, etc?
- Who else could be included in this conversation? Is there a perspective that was not considered?
- How could students rally support for more gender-neutral restrooms?
- Would you like to research and discuss this topic further?