The issue over gender-neutral bathrooms

By Max Schochet – 1851 Staff 

“I’m not a she. I’m not a he. I’m you. I’m me. I’m we,” are the words Fenn Esser wrote in a response to Time’s “Beyond He or She” article. The words ring out like a banner as the debate over transgender rights heats up across the nation. The controversial question at the center—where to go to the bathroom? More specifically, should people who are transgender be forced to go to a sex-segregated bathroom?

As the discourse ensues, colleges in New England and beyond have taken a progressive first step: offering all-gender bathrooms. Here in Massachusetts, Wheaton College underwent a major policy change. The College transitioned single occupancy bathrooms on campus to all-gender bathrooms by switching the signs from “co-ed” to “all-gender,”according to The Sun Chronicle.

Although it may seem inconsequential, the change is monumental in an unassuming way. It offers a special symbolic representation of inclusivity; an elimination of labels. Discrimination and segregation persists when labels are used to highlight differences. By eliminating labels, students will feel more comfortable, and prejudice is reduced.

Other New England colleges have followed suit. According to both schools’ websites, UMass Lowell has transformed 40 single-person restrooms into gender neutral ones and the University of Vermont converted a whopping 380 bathrooms into gender-neutral with nine being unisex multi-stalls.

The next step, of course, would be for schools and businesses to convert multi-stall restrooms into all-gender facilities. However, there are various concerns with the integration. First is safety and security, will someone of the opposite gender exploit the policy and do something egregious? Would women, thus, be more venerable to sexual assaults? In an email from Maura Healey, Massachusetts’s attorney general, “misuse of sex-segregated facilities already is exceedingly rare” and desegregation won’t make it any more likely.

Privacy is another issue. The University of Toronto recently reversed its policy on gender-neutral bathrooms after two female students were filmed while showering. There is also the ethical issue and religious concerns. Conservative and orthodox religious practitioners may look unfavorably of intermingling between sexes.

Although these are valid concerns, I believe gender-neutral restrooms are a move in the right direction. Rachael Pauze, Wheaton’s director of Title IX compliance, said the initiative reflects the community’s “standards and expectations around inclusiveness.” Lasell should follow their lead because it’s important to do so; more so now than before.

Lasell does a great job of being inclusive to all on campus. And making this move would be another step in the right direction. We are a just people. And people can do their business in whatever restroom they want.

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