28 August 2013

University of Minnesota Falls Short on Gender Neutral Restrooms.

Campus Pride recently released a list of the "Top 25 LGBTQ Friendly Colleges." I proudly attend one of these universities, the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (This is the flagship campus, and I will use UMN for short). In fact, UMN got a perfect 5/5.

This is a prime example of how far we have to go.

Yes, UMN earns much of praise, as well as the other three Minnesota schools that make the list. Their presence is only natural given the state's record on Queer issues. After all, Minneapolis was the first city to protect on the basis of gender identity. UMN is clearly able to check the vast majority of the boxes, with UMN's report card only giving it a no on, "Accessible, simple process for students to change their name and gender identity on university records and documents." This is definitely an issue (for more than just Trans people), though not my topic for this post.

The "Wabasha Freedom to Marriage Bridge" as it was declared by St Paul Mayor Coleman for the passage of marriage equality in Minnesota. My photo.
One of my pet peeves, and a very simple fix, is a prime example of where UMN gets an easy pass by the surveys of groups like Campus Pride. One simple question is way too easy on campuses:
Does your campus provide gender-neutral/single occupancy restroom facilities in administrative and academic buildings?

This leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, UMN has gender-neutral restroomsThere is one on the same floor as my office. Yet there is a lot more at issue than just having gender neutral bathrooms. What percentage of the buildings have gender neutral bathrooms?  On all of Saint Paul campus, there are only 8 buildings listed with gender neutral restrooms. That is less than half. The next closest gender neutral bathroom to the one near my office is, according to Google Maps, a 0.3 mile walk. Are there single use bathrooms that could be gender neutral but are not? Yet again UMN miserably fails. My building has two single use restrooms on every floor except the first one, and yet there is only one gender neutral restroom in the entire building. 

Image from UW - River Falls
What reason is there to have seven segregated single use bathrooms in one building? From an efficiency standpoint it is nonsensical. People either have to ignore the gender segregation (thus defeating whatever purpose one thinks there is in the segregation), wait, or go to another floor. If the concern is the presence of urinals in some (which is present in the only gender neutral restroom in my entire building and any of the surrounding buildings) or the female hygiene receptacles, a simple sign would quickly clear up that problem. Female hygiene receptacles could be added to the other restrooms if that is a concern, since they are just wall-mounted trash cans. For those bringing up a cleanliness argument, I will just ask since I have heard these kinds of remarks from both men and women, are you worried about male aim or female hovering?

The building that I am discussing, photos from the UMN's Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior department.
This is common sense, and has a profound impact on the environment. What kind of message does it send when only a single restroom in an entire building of single use restrooms is gender neutral? To me it seems more like a checked box than a true attempt to create an inclusive environment. People face really horrible issues due to restrooms. A friend being blocked from entering a bathroom is part of what spurred my activism on the issue, and judging from what I heard far worse has happened.

The lack of widespread gender neutral restrooms also creates a prime zone for anti-Trans bias. Cis-privilege quite likely gives a person like myself the benefit of the doubt when using a single use restroom that somebody perceives is "incorrect." It is likely written off as the other restroom being occupied. Does a person who appears Trans or gender nonconforming get that same benefit of the doubt? Why even create the possibility of these scenarios existing. To be honest, it is sad that even in the cities that first protected gender identity people are still made to feel ashamed and unsafe simply by their choice of restroom. It is even more shameful that the university can't at least make sure all single use restrooms are places that anybody can feel comfortable using (it should be noted here that the American's with Disabilities Act 2010 standards essentially require all new and renovated single sue restrooms to be handicap accessible).

UMN has earned high marks, yet let's not rest on our laurels. There are certainly improvements needed.

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