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College Campuses Begin to Introduce 'Gender-Neutral' Bathrooms

Colleges create "gender-neutral" bathrooms for non-gender-conforming students
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Recently, Northwestern University installed two new bathrooms in their busy student center. Typically, that's not headline news, but these shiny new facilities aren't your typical bathrooms: they're "gender neutral," which means they're open to all genders — regardless of how a person identifies or even if they don't identify by a gender at all.

It turns out the Evanston, Ill., school is just one of several colleges to install such a facility lately, in an effort to embrace shifting gender norms and make all students feel more comfortable on campus. Illinois State University also recently jumped on the bandwagon, renaming their "all family" bathroom to "all genders." And last year, Wesleyan staged a campaign to bring all-gender bathrooms to their own campus, with a manifesto that asked the school to stop "segregating bathrooms along gender lines."

While it may seem like a small measure to incorporate just one or two of these bathrooms on a huge campus, it's a big step for many in the student community. As Izzy Rode wrote in Slate last December, "Gender-divided bathrooms have long been a point of contention for queer people, especially those identifying as trans. For those whose gender identity or presentation defies the clear-cut gender binary, the necessary urge to relieve oneself often ends with a painful resignation to either male or female when in public. The result is discomfort for everyone involved."

Northwestern and Illinois State may have created their bathrooms to provide a more inclusive environment for students, but other schools have been slowly doing so for safety and access reasons. On the Huffington Post, Transgender Law Center shared that non-binary or trans students have in some cases been barred from using their school restrooms, or even attacked or harassed inside public restrooms at malls and grocery stores.

But by creating bathrooms open to all, colleges are hoping that trans and non-binary students will avoid the uncomfortable process of being repeatedly "outed" to other students, singled out in some way, or just plain judged based on which door they walk through. "Trans and gender-nonconforming students should be focusing on their education or getting their job done well, and not about which bathroom they can use," Sasha Buchert, staff attorney for the Transgender Law Center told the Huffington Post.

Also giving gender-neutral bathrooms a big thumbs up? Disability rights activists. Many have publicly supported the creation of such bathrooms, since they're often wheelchair-friendly, too, and include lockable, single-stall bathrooms that make it easier for someone with a disability to access (as well as their caretaker, who can be of differing genders).

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