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2013 Spring Issue 4 (May 3, 2013)

On Gender Neutral Bathrooms

May 5, 2013
By Ned Heckman

Imagine, if you will, the hypothetical experiences of Avery and Quinn.

Avery and Quinn are both students at Carleton, participating in a diverse array of extracurricular activities that round out their academic experiences. This morning, Avery and Quinn went to the library to finish their joint project for their Political Science class. Both students were working hard and contributing equally. As is wont to happen, both Avery and Quinn were struck with the urge to use the bathroom. This is where the stories of Avery and Quinn begin to diverge.

Quinn is cisgendered, meaning that Quinn’s gender identity matches the one that was assigned at birth. For Quinn, the trip to the bathroom was fairly uneventful. Quinn was able to find a bathroom that matched this gender identity (i.e. male or female) and felt comfortable in the restroom with other people who also shared this common gender identity. Quinn’s trip to the bathroom was quick, and Quinn was able to return immediately to the group project.

Avery’s experience going to the bathroom was not as simple as Quinn’s had been. Avery is transgendered, and doesn’t feel comfortable identifying within a gender binary. Unlike Quinn, Avery could not find a restroom in the library that was gender-neutral. Thus, Avery had to locate and walk to the closest bathroom without a gender designation, which is in Boliou Hall. The trip took fifteen minutes, and by the time Avery returned, Quinn was frustrated. Quinn couldn’t understand why Avery wouldn’t just use they boy’s bathroom if he looked like a boy.

Although the experiences of Avery and Quinn are fictional, perhaps hyperbolic even, they reflect a reality for some Carleton students. In many academic buildings at Carleton, there are no gender-neutral bathroom spaces, forcing transgendered students to interrupt their work to walk unnecessarily long distances to use the restroom. This is not acceptable.

Carleton College’s statement on diversity explicitly affirms that it has a responsibility to educate a diverse student body, including those from a variety of gender identities and expressions. Historically, Carleton has taken pride in its LGBT-friendliness. Indeed, our institution was forefront of its peers when it created the Gender and Sexuality Center in 2001, and Admissions material touts Carleton’s five-star rating from Campus Pride Index. Interestingly, Carleton does not make this same group’s list for top Trans-friendly colleges. Perhaps, as an institution, we have done a good job making Carleton a welcoming place for lesbian, gay and bisexual students and faculty. Still, our lack of gender-neutral restroom facilities in academic buildings reflects a lack of respect for students for whom gender identity is not as simple as male or female.

Even if Carleton were on the above-mentioned list, however, it would not excuse us from work that yet remains to be done to make our campus to make it a safe-space for all. The use of restrooms is a fundamental human right that should be available to all students. As an academic institution, we need to add gender-neutral bathroom spaces to all academic (and residential) buildings. All Carleton students deserve to be able to use a bathroom in the spaces they do the work they came to Carleton to do.

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