The fear that has long surrounded those with a different sexual preference is coming to an end as students and full-time employees begin to set a new standard in college campuses and company buildings. The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community is advocating for equal rights in regard to a gender-neutral restroom.
Anthony Krueger is a student at Mount St. Mary’s College in upstate New York, and three years ago he came out as being gay. He was ridiculed and had to change dormitory rooms more than once because of his roommates inability to handle it. He has become an advocate for gay rights and is very happy with how the city of Philadelphia is reacting to the issue of having a unisex bathroom replace the segregated male versus female restroom.
Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter, is in the process of making the city the most “LGBT-friendly community in the country” even though Pennsylvania does not allow same-sex marriage. In November, Nutter signed into legislation a bill making it mandatory in Philadelphia to incorporate gender-neutral bathrooms in new or renovated city-owned buildings in addition to traditional men’s and women’s bathrooms.
These restrooms will be marked with a sign that combines the traditional male sign and the female sign to make a fusion of the two. It is mandatory for many colleges and corporate offices to begin putting these restrooms throughout the building, with the beginning stages being the bathroom is separate, but eventually the male and female restroom will become obsolete.
Wesleyan College of Connecticut is one such institute that finds its students fighting for gender-neutral bathrooms. Students at the college have recently been taking down the male and female signs and replacing them with a gender-neutral sign alongside their own personal note.
“We demand that Wesleyan University stop segregating bathrooms along gender lines and provide all-gender bathrooms in all buildings in the University. We resent statements by Wesleyan Administration that all-gender bathrooms are widely available on this campus, when they are in fact often difficult to find or unmarked, in inconvenient locations, or simply not available.”
The notion to have gender-neutral bathrooms is sweeping the country as other schools such as West Virginia University where Brandon Reckline, a native to Maryland visited his friend and was caught by surprise as he brushed his teeth in a WVU bathroom and a female walked out of the shower. “ I apologized and told her I guess I was in the wrong bathroom. She laughed and said the bathrooms were co-ed but for safety she always had a friend go with her” said Reckline.
Safety issues are a primary concern for some people who worry about their safety in the restroom. “I worry about gang rape, men will be able to walk into the same restroom as women and no one will think about it” said Emilie O’Donnoghue, a student at Baltimore Community College. Reckline agrees and wonders if the law is passed at bars, clubs and concerts if the number of women being taken advantage of will increase.
Towson University student Courtney Lecates is of the opinion that rape will not increase because “if someone wants to commit those crimes, then they have plenty of opportunities with the way the bathrooms are now.”
In a poll taken through Facebook, out of 10 people asked if they believed this would be a positive action or a negative one, half of the people believe that there should be an additional restroom that is gender-neutral. The other 50% of people asked said they believe it would be a good idea to incorporate gender-neutral bathrooms in addition to get people used to the idea, and then get rid of gender segregated bathrooms once people have accepted it.
With the possibility of gender-neutral bathrooms on the rise, colleges are becoming the first institutes to allow this new trend to occur. In Towson University, there are eighteen gender-neutral restrooms that most students didn’t know existed. Hidden on a page titled lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, there is a list of the bathrooms locations, many of which are tucked away in the laundry room, near an exit, or in the buildings lobby. The list is side-marked with a footnote that reads “all single stall restrooms, not all marked gender-neutral.”
Lecates wasn’t aware that Towson University had gender-neutral bathrooms and reacted with shock and awe but also a sense of unease. “I’m glad Towson has gender-neutral bathrooms, but they should be in well marked areas, where a bathroom is expected to be. Don’t hide the bathrooms, maybe if they had bathrooms where they should be, there would be no risk of rape of abductions.”
The students at Wesleyan College reported on the schools new page their opinion about those concerned about their safety in gender-neutral bathrooms. “What I’d suggest is that we immediately address this need and demand that in every building, there is at least one single-use restroom that can function as a private, gendered safe space for these folks and anyone else that feels uncomfortable.”
O’Donnoghue reported that she sympathizes with the LGBT community and understands why they want to have gender-neutral bathrooms, but “being a straight woman, I don’t want to share a bathroom with men and I think it will lead to the ‘peeping Tom’ scenario. I just won’t feel safe.”
Krueger is excited about the possibility of gender-neutral bathrooms. After being ridiculed for years, he thinks that this is a positive step in the direction of equality. “This like many things, is something society has to get used to. I don’t mean to separate anyone but I feel it would prevent violent actions from occurring.”
Councilman Jim Kenney said in an interview with NBC that this is a step toward equal protection. “Equal protection under the law means equal protection under the law. It is the next iteration of civil rights and freedom in the United States.”
Schools across the country are following Philadelphia’s example and installing a minimum of one gender-neutral bathroom in each building. Schools such as University of Vermont, Towson University, University of Texas, Reed College, University of Regina and many others have already installed bathrooms that do not discriminate against those who do not quite know where they belong.
Coworkers at Applebees Restaurant in Westminster, MD think there should be an additional bathroom for those who don’t feel comfortable with deciding if they belong in the male or female restroom. “I never really thought about this before because bathrooms have always been separate for males and females” said Andrew Fitzgerald, a server at Applebees. “I feel like the best thing would be to start adding a third bathroom to businesses and schools which would be unisex, and then once that breaks the ice we could slowly start doing away with separate bathrooms altogether.”
The controversy surrounding gender-neutral bathrooms is a very diverse one that finds students and full-time employees having mixed emotions about what should be done. With the initial stage of incorporating a gender-neutral bathroom in addition to the traditional bathrooms, the intent is to remove gender segregated restrooms and have a single unified bathroom.
With the LGBT community finding themselves nervous about which restroom they should use and the heterosexual community worried about sharing a bathroom with the opposite sex, the controversy continues to grow. “The thing is, we can’t always get what we want,” said O’Donnoghue. “Everyone feels like they have to get their way, sometimes you have to just keep quiet and go along with it. Everyone can’t win.”