LGBTQ+ students demand more gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus

Original article published on the CU Independent here.

Roy MacDonald, a gender non-conforming CU undergraduate, walking into a multi-stall all-gender restroom on the fourth floor of the Center for Community building on Nov. 12, 2022. (Courtesy of Niles Honeywick)

Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally written for the College of Media, Communication and Information’s News Corps program.

Editor’s note, Jan. 26: This story has been updated to clarify the number of all-gender restrooms available on the campus map, the role of Facilities Management in constructing new campus buildings and updating the campus map, as well as the role of the university in allocating funding and abiding by plumbing codes.

Every day, Faye Kollig, a non-binary CU Boulder student, faces a frustrating bathroom dilemma. They have two options: to misgender themselves for the convenience of using a gendered bathroom near their office or spend more time and effort to find a gender-neutral bathroom in another building. Most days, tired and busy, they resign themselves to the first option.

“Queer people have to sacrifice their comfort and their sense of safety and belonging because this isn’t a battle you can fight every day,” Kollig said. “It can be very emotionally draining.” 

Kollig, a Ph.D. student in the information sciences department, spends most of their school days in the Environmental Design Building, located across from the CU Art Museum. The building currently has no gender-neutral bathrooms. 

In 2019, Morgan Scheuerman, a Ph.D. student in the same department who identifies as transmasculine non-binary, complained to the CU Boulder administration about this issue. Three years later, he says nothing has changed. 

They aren’t the only ones who have raised this issue.

Accessibility concerns 

An estimated 4.7% of CU’s total student population identifies outside the gender binary, according to CU Boulder’s 2021 Campus Culture Survey. The accessibility of gender-neutral bathrooms on CU Boulder’s campus affects the transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming population at the university.

More than 90% of CU Boulder students, staff and faculty do not believe CU Boulder has enough gender-neutral bathrooms, according to a non-scientific survey of about 260 members of the campus community conducted through Qualtrics by CU News Corps reporter Niles Honeywick and distributed with help from the CU Pride Office and oSTEM. Seventy-six percent indicate at least one building they regularly use doesn’t have a gender-neutral bathroom, and 60.4% rated finding gender-neutral bathrooms on campus as a “difficult” or “very difficult” process.

For many of these people, gender-neutral bathrooms are a necessity for their mental and physical health and their personal safety. Gendered facilities have the potential to be unsafe places for transgender and non-binary people, where microaggressions, verbal harassment and even physical attacks may occur. 

According to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 12% of transgender people faced verbal harassment in public bathrooms within the last year. Twenty-four percent of respondents said someone had “questioned or challenged their presence” in a public bathroom, and 9% reported they had been denied access to a bathroom.

“When [a negative situation] happens once or twice, that’s enough to feel anxious every time someone walks out of a stall,” said engineering project consultant Natasha Ouellette, who is working to install gender-neutral bathrooms in CU Boulder’s Integrated Teaching and Learning Program facilities. “If you have enough of these experiences, you’re going to go to that fight or flight mode every time. Even if people aren’t causing that problem right now, you might not feel safe in that space in general.”

University officials are “not aware of any specific data that points to restrooms on the CU Boulder campus as spaces where harassment or violence are more prone to occur,” said spokesperson Andrew Sorensen in a statement to the CU Independent.

Gender-neutral facilities that offer safer inclusive spaces for transgender and non-binary students do not pose a safety risk for cisgender people, despite safety concerns from opponents of gender-inclusive policies, according to a recent study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. The findings counter the “bathroom predator myth,” which portrays transgender women as dangerous sexual predators who endanger the safety of women and children in public bathrooms.

“CU Boulder recognizes the marginalization this community faces through increased societal and cultural anti-trans behavior and aims to create more inclusive environments on campus,” Sorensen said. “The university has preventative measures and support mechanisms in place to assist this community and other communities at higher risk.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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