Janae Teal and Meredith Williams, Pride Foundation Scholars and student organizers of Gender-Neutral Bathroom Week, are starting a conversation locally to tell the campus and the broader community that no matter how someone expresses their gender, they deserve to pee in peace.
Students at Washington State University (WSU) Vancouver have organized Gender-Neutral Bathroom Week, April 2 – 6, as a way to educate the campus community about gender issues, including diversity of gender identities and expressions. Throughout the week, one set of bathrooms in each of seven buildings will be designated “gender neutral,” meaning the facilities will be available for use to anyone, no matter their gender identity or expression.
Gender-Neutral Bathroom Week brings awareness to the community and support to students who have felt uncomfortable and have been questioned or harassed using public restrooms both on and off campus because they do not meet society’s stereotypical notions for male or female.
Campuses throughout the nation are currently grappling with how to best meet the needs of all students and are exploring policies for gender-neutral housing and other public facilities.
“I sometimes hear people are afraid of gender-neutral facilities. Believing that anyone who is masculine is automatically a threat or unclean is disrespectful to men. Believing that anyone who is feminine is a potential victim or needs protection is disrespectful to women. Assuming we need to be kept in separate rooms to go the bathroom is based on outdated, limiting stereotypes of what men and women should look or act like. This is not just an issue for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities—this impacts anyone who does not express themselves in stereotypically gendered ways,” said Teal.
If members of the WSU Vancouver community do not wish to use the gender-neutral bathrooms, there will be signs to gender-segregated alternatives in each of the participating buildings.
“The great thing about this plan is that people who are not comfortable using a gender-neutral bathroom can step a few feet out of their way to find a gender-segregated bathroom. For that few seconds, they get to experience what it is like for gender non-conformers who often have to go out of their way, and sometimes have to ‘hold it,’ if they don’t want to be harassed in the bathroom,” said Williams.
Throughout Gender-Neutral Bathroom Week, student, staff and faculty volunteers will act as “toilet trainers” to help the event run smoothly. They will be stationed outside of each gender-neutral bathroom to answer questions, direct traffic and raise awareness of the reasons for the event.
Members of the WSU Vancouver community and the public are invited to debrief the event at a Town Hall Meeting on Monday, April 9 in Room 129 the Administration Building from 5-6pm.
Gender-Neutral Bathroom Week was made possible by funding from the WSU Vancouver Diversity Council. Additional information is available at www.wsuvgenderdiversity.wordpress.com.
Uma Rao is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Western Washington. Email Uma.