The state of California passed what some are referring to as the “transgender bathroom bill” this year. Ca. Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1266, The School Success and Opportunity Act, in Aug., setting it to take effect as law in Jan.
“Many people don’t think about what it would be like if you had to use the restroom opposite of the gender with which you identify. For trans* people, they are too often forced to use the restroom that aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth, rather than feeling comfortable enough, or safe enough, to use the restroom with which their gender aligns,” Kris Hawkins, President of RockOUT and senior psychology major, 21, said.
The bill would permit any individual in primary or secondary educational programs to “participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.” The bill has gotten a reputation as the “transgender bathroom bill” for the inclusion of use of facilities based on gender identity.
However, not all residents are pleased with the bill. According to their website, group called Privacy for All Students submitted over 620,000 signatures this week in an effort to reevaluate the decision with a public vote in the Nov. 2014 ballot. The signatures are currently in the process of being verified by each of the Ca. counties. If the referendum qualifies for the ballot, AB 1266 will be suspended until Ca. voters decide whether to approve or reject it.
“I think most prejudice comes from a lack of understanding – a fear of what we don’t know about. If people would really learn about it and see how this feeling of ‘I’m in the wrong body’ actually occurs, I think those people would be less hateful.” Jodi Solito, director of the Women’s Center and member of the President’s Commission on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation stated.
Solito felt that most Slippery Rock University students are accepting of the bathrooms and proactive actions for trans*students, but that others may not be as embracing of the ideas.
“I think students are fine [with the idea of trans* bathrooms] but I wonder about – not our administrators here – but the higher up, the Council of Trustees and the Board of Governors.”
With the opening of the Robert M. Smith Student Center last year, the university brought to campus its first bathroom that outwardly declared open use for any person regardless of gender identity or expression. The bathroom can be found on the second floor and features an image of a half male-half female symbol.
Hawkins said that the bathroom addition is an important move forward.
“We have made the progressive step of introducing gender neutral bathrooms in the Student Center which will ensure an affirming and more open campus community,” he said.
“Though this seems like a small step, it is a large one at SRU. The gender-neutral restrooms tell us that our university and its administrators genuinely care about the well-being of their students regardless of gender-identity.”
Initially designated as a family bathroom, the President’s Commission for Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation had the facility changed to better represent an acceptance for all students, Dr. Catherine Massey, associate professor of psychology and member of the President’s Commission for Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, explained.
“There’s fear associated with it,” she said, describing the problems transgender students may face needing to choose either the men’s room or the women’s room. Having the third option is a way she feels the fear is alleviated.
“This has actually been a long time coming,” Massey said. “We went over our campus and we looked at our bathroom stalls that we had to see what ones would be okay for people who are transgender and we don’t have a lot,” Including with the gender neutral bathroom in the Student Center, Slippery Rock has nine locations with single stall and/or unisex bathrooms throughout the campus. Solito mentioned wanting to get sign designations for all of these locations like the one in the Student Center.
“We have a long way to go, definitely.” Massey said. However, she admitted that, to her knowledge, using the right bathroom has not presented itself as an issue amongst Slippery Rock University transgender students. “This is an issue that I don’t think we’ve come across. Although we do have transgender students, it doesn’t seem to be a problem in terms of what bathrooms they’re using.” Massey added that it is still important to address. “There may come a day when it does become an issue. Rather than waiting for that to happen we should have designated bathrooms in multiple places on campus,” she said.
There is currently not any monitoring of the restroom’s usage but that usage is not really the issue, according to Massey. “It’s more about them feeling that they have that choice so if they feel uncomfortable going into the men’s room or the women’s room they have an alternative and they’re not forced to do it.”
“Purely from a financial standpoint, it may be an issue of cost,” Solito said as a possible reason to not have the facilities, though she added that when a new building is being built it is an easier task.
Massey would like to see consideration in adding the third bathroom option to all renovated or new buildings on campus, as she states some other PASSHE universities require, starting with the renovations to Miller Auditorium.
“In designing that building they should have a gender neutral bathroom as well. That’s something that I think the commission needs to bring up with the president,” she said.