The sign next to the door squeezed between the men’s and women’s rooms at UC Davis’ School of Environmental and Plant Sciences contains a single word: “restroom.” But officials at this and other UC campuses hope the sign will help to broaden both access and minds.
The university is in the midst of converting 120 single-stall restrooms around campus by March 1 to “gender-inclusive” spaces – facilities without gender designation – to accommodate transgender and gender nonconforming students along with others on campus.
The idea: “Simply removing signage that depicts gendered individuals in skirts or trousers and replacing them with signage that takes gender out of the equation and truly creates a restroom for everyone,” said Grant Nejedlo, a university spokesman. “It’s a really simple fix that goes a long way toward making people feel they have improved access.”
Nejedlo says the restrooms will also be useful for parents or family members with children of different genders, or caregivers of those of a different gender who otherwise would have to use multi-stalled and gender-specific restrooms.
Gone are the familiar skirts-and-slacks stick figures that had adorned the doors, replaced with a combination of the plates that backed them: the men’s room triangle and the circular plate that identified the women’s facilities.
Simply removing signage that depicts gendered individuals in skirts or trousers and replacing them with signage that takes gender out of the equation and truly creates a restroom for everyone.
Grant Nejedlo, UC Davis spokesman
The conversions, which go into effect at campuses across the UC system in March, also are designed to replace the sense of anxiety that those who do not identify with their gender at birth – or those with nonstandard sexual anatomy – experience when using public restrooms. Elizabeth Coté, director of a campus resource center for the university’s LGBTQ and intersex communities, talked Friday of harassment, intimidation and worse that those who are transgender and gender nonconforming are subject to when using public facilities.
Those experiences take other, physical tolls, Coté said, with some refraining from drinking water or avoiding trips to the restroom altogether for fear of being harassed.
“They’re told to leave, they’re yelled at or beat up. It’s an issue of physical safety, but also, emotional safety is significant,” Coté said. She also said she has tried to assuage some folks’ concerns about the gender-inclusive restrooms by talking about the experiences of others without specific gender identity.
“My experience is that as soon as I explain it, people say, ‘Oh, I never thought of that,’ ” Coté said. “The idea that men and women look certain ways – that’s very entrenched. But on a basic level, people should (be able to) go to the bathroom. People are on board with that.”
120 UC Davis is in the midst of converting that many single-stall restrooms around campus by March 1.
Sae Yokoyama, 19, is a second-year psychology major who identifies as asexual with friends in the LGBTQ community. She says the time has come for gender-inclusive restrooms across campus.
“Definitely, we have to push for it,” Yokoyama said Friday, while acknowledging the idea “will take some getting used to” for some on campus.
Controversy has arisen over the issue, though the numbers of college campuses with gender-inclusive or gender-neutral restrooms and other facilities is growing nationwide, with accommodations either installed or planned at institutions that include Louisiana State University, Western Kentucky University and Kansas State University. Starting last July in the 10-campus University of California system, new buildings and facilities undergoing major renovations were required to include gender-inclusive restrooms and changing rooms.
Some gender-neutral and gender-inclusive facilities have been available on campus for a couple of years, including at the campus’s Student Community Center, home to the LGBTQ resource center, said Brandon Chan, a campus facilities management engineer. A list of the restrooms on campus is available at lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu.
Nejedlo said he anticipates some resistance to the idea, but he takes the long view.
“I think when we look back on this project and our work on this issue, we’re going to be proud we were so forward-thinking and simply removing unnecessary divisions between male and female in these spaces,” he said. “These are single-stall spaces. It’s just the right thing to do.”