Petition: FAU Needs Gender-Neutral Bathrooms to Accommodate Transgender Students (Updated)

Petition: FAU Needs Gender-Neutral Bathrooms to Accommodate Transgender Students (Updated)
@Jeffrey Beall/Flickr

Faculty and students at FAU are petitioning the university to make its restrooms more trans-accessible, though so far there hasn't been a response in nearly a month. Currently, there are 23 gender-neutral public restrooms on campus. But where they are isn't listed on the university's handbook or website and the signage on them identifies it as a family restroom, not like the picture shown above.

This can cause problems, many in the transgender community say.

The site the petition is housed on is run by Peter Cava, a former professor and current Doctoral Dissertation Fellow and Research Assistant at FAU. More than 150 universities and colleges across the nation already have similar measures, including UCF and UF.

Cava says the danger in FAU's inaction might include more than just extra harassment.

"Many trans people feel humiliated when they are forced to use restrooms that do not correspond with their gender identities," he said in a statement. "Moreover, many trans people face hostility and discrimination in restrooms due to bias. Attempting to avoid such experiences, many trans people develop infections and diseases from insufficiently frequent restroom use."

Benjamin Brage -- an FAU junior in charge of the petition's social media presence -- says at least 20 students on campus (and probably more) are either transgender or transitioning and that it's something that's growing.

"I've been harassed," he tells New Times. "Pretty much everyone I know who is transitioning or is transgender has been harassed or felt uncomfortable using the public restroom because of their fear of being harassed. It's one thing for people to laugh at you. I've had people give me dirty looks, I've been told to leave, I've been asked why I'm there. It's part of why I don't feel comfortable using the male restrooms on campus."

Still, this isn't a new problem. Back in 2012, Cava was told by a building staffer that he couldn't use the family restroom:

In an incident on September 25, 2008, I was harassed in a restroom. On that occasion, I was attending a talk by journalist Barbara Ehrenreich in the Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium. In the lobby, there are four public restrooms: a women's room, a men's room and two gender-neutral restrooms. I entered one of the gender-neutral restrooms. A staff person chased after me and started banging on the door. The staff person commanded me to exit the restroom immediately, threatening to unlock the door and forcibly remove me. I exited, and the staff person ordered me to use the men's room instead. I reported the incident to the staff person's supervisor. The supervisor supported the staff person's actions and confirmed that I would be required to use the men's room. At a later date, another student contacted me and described a similar experience.

This led Cava on a search, walking to every bathroom on campus and creating a directory in which he found there were 34 single-stall public restrooms on campus and 23 designated as gender-neutral. He presented this directory to the university in '12 and asked that it be put on the website. There was no response.

The current petition now calls for more than just a directory. The entire list of demands is below:

(1) Make a directory of single-stall public restrooms on campus available in the student handbook and on the University's website. This directory could be thought of as comparable to the listing of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) facilities for a building. To help with this step, we are attaching a student-made directory of single-stall public restrooms on campus to this petition.

(2) Clearly designate all single-stall public restrooms on campus as gender-neutral. Exceptions may be made for single-stall restrooms that cannot be accessed unless one walks through a gender-segregated multi-stall restroom, as in General Classroom South.

(3) Convert some of the multi-stall restrooms on campus from gender-segregated to gender-neutral, with the goal of having at least one central, accessible, gender-neutral restroom in every building.

(4) Consider the need for gender-neutral restrooms in any new campus construction plans.

(5) The goal of the first four steps is to create safer spaces for TGNC (transgender and gender-nonconforming) students, not to burden them. In some cases, TGNC women may prefer to use women's rooms and TGNC men, men's. In these cases, TGNC students would be unjustly burdened if the University were to bar them from women's and men's rooms. Therefore, in conjunction with the first four steps, the University should recognize the right of TGNC people to access available restrooms that correspond with their gender identities.

Currently, the petition has 97 signatures out of a desired 1,000. Cava is hopeful that now, though, is a good time for FAU to make changes, saying another "development is the 2014 selection of John Kelly as the University President and President Kelly's recent restructuring of the administration. In the wake of these changes, I hope that the new administration will embrace the opportunity to demonstrate its responsiveness to the needs of its transgender and gender-nonconforming constituents."

FAU hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment but we'll update this post when they do.

Update: FAU released the following statement through director of media relations Lisa Metcalf:

"As the most diverse university in Florida serving about 30,000 students, we take great pride in accommodating the wide variety of students who choose FAU. We currently have 38 gender neutral bathrooms located throughout our Boca Raton campus. We give all petitions from students and faculty the fullest attention. and we are examining this petition to determine what additional accommodations can be made for transgender students."

Follow Ryan Cortes on Twitter.




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