Installing Gender-Neutral Restrooms Is a Basic Decency

I realize this
probably makes me sound like a middle school-aged boy, but usually when I think
about bathrooms, I begin cracking up. There is something inherently funny about a room where people congregate to do their business. Even more strange that they do so in a weird porcelain contraption
we call a “toilet.”

Almost everyone has a funny bathroom story to tell, but
alas, I will save mine for another time.

It’s important
to remember, though, that for some people, bathrooms are not quite so
funny. In fact, there are many
people who live in constant dread of having to use a restroom whenever they are in a public setting because it presents extremely uncomfortable and
awkward positions to choose between.

Most bathrooms, including those at the Claremont Colleges, are designated as either a “men’s room” or a “women’s room.” The history of gender-segregated restrooms is a bit complicated, and stems in part from the outdated idea that men and women should be kept separate. Some have gone so far as to claim that such restrooms protect women from being hassled or even assaulted by men.  In recent years, however, there has been a renewed push to move away from gender-segregated in various public locations in order to accommodate more individuals.

Consider that, while gender-segregated restrooms may be okay if you identify as a man or woman, they create a tricky situation for those who identify outside of the gender binary.

Which one is it appropriate to use? Is there a risk for embarrassment or harassment? Will somebody make a commotion?

These are the
types of tough questions that non-binary people are faced with everyday. Oftentimes, the only option for someone
who is unable to use a gender-segregated restroom is to simply hold it, unless they are willing to walk a potentially long distance to find an

It’s simply not
fair that people should be put in such a situation. To put any person in such a situation is more than just ‘unfair’ or ‘careless’, but it also represents a form of institutionalized discrimination.

LGBTQ+ community has experienced particular marginalization over the years, and
only very recently has mainstream society begun to recognize its rights. In
many cases, transgender and non-binary persons have experienced some of the
worst discrimination and exclusion, particularly on an institutional level. These individuals should be embraced for
who they are, and not made to feel excluded by their communities.

I would agree
that bathrooms seem like a small place to start, but make no mistake—they are
crucially important. Gender-segregated restrooms are one of the most visible vestiges of separation and exclusion because they appear just about

Most humans are in a position where they have to use public
restrooms nearly every day of the week. Because of this, restrooms are often a
constant reminder to transgender and non-binary individuals that they
are ‘different.’ Creating this separation unfairly excludes and isolates.

however, there is a relatively simple way to fix this problem. We can begin to
re-designate existing gender-segregated restrooms as gender-neutral. All that this requires is a few minor
cosmetic changes to signage, and in some instances installing a lock on the
external door. 

The actual cost of taking such action is relatively low, but the
potential benefit is exponentially high.

At Pitzer, I am currently involved in an initiative to convince
the administration to designate gender-neutral restrooms in some of the key buildings
on campus. Take, for example, the fact that McConnell Center (where our dining
hall is located) and the Gold Student Center (where our gymnasium is located)
currently contain zero gender-neutral restroom facilities. 

For such a
progressive and forward-thinking college, I believe this situation demonstrates
a lack of institutional awareness about the needs of students and other members
of the campus community.

I suspect that
the idea of gender-neutral restrooms will raise a few eyebrows. There are
probably many people who feel uneasy with the prospect of using a restroom that
is shared by multiple genders. This is a completely reasonable position to take,
and I am certainly not proposing that we eliminate all gender-segregated

That being said,
it is important that we make sure there are sufficient options so that everyone
can feel safe, included and comfortable whenever they need to use the
restroom. It’s only common sense that all people should be able to pee in

Kawar PZ ’17 is a political studies major from San Diego, Calif. He currently
serves as sophomore class president at Pitzer College.

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