In an effort to make university campuses a more inclusive space for LGBTQ identified students, UC President Janet Napolitano announced the UC-wide conversion of all single-stall restrooms into all-gender restrooms, as well as allowing students to include a preferred name on campus records with their birth name.
The measures, announced last week, were just two of many recommendations offered by an LGBTQ advisory council comprised of students, staff and faculty from all UC campuses. The council, appointed directly by UC President Napolitano, follows a previous LGBTQ task force created by former UC President Mark Yudof.
“The impact is quite large for transgendered students and students whose gender identity may not align with their gender,” said UC Santa Cruz vice president of academic affairs and member of the LGBTQ advisory council Herbert Lee. “These students can often feel uncomfortable in single-sex bathrooms and this simple change of signage creates a better climate for them.”
Thanks to the “Free 2 Pee” campaign headed by the Lionel Cantú Queer Center, UCSC already started converting its single-stall bathrooms.
Cantú Queer Center director Deborah Abbott expressed concerns with students, staff and faculty who felt gendered bathrooms were unsafe. Many were having to hike across campus to bathrooms they felt safe to use.
“Free 2 Pee” emerged as a response to those concerns. Over the past few years, the Cantú Queer Center worked in conjunction with the sign shop and all buildings on campus to identify and convert single-stall bathrooms. In most cases, the conversion requires a change in the door signage that runs around $100 per sign, including parts and labor.
With no central funding in place, the financial responsibility fell on the Cantú Queer Center, which was aided by donations and a few colleges that were willing to take on the cost.
“It affects their safety if they are forced to use a binary restroom and that’s why it’s very serious,” said second-year student Rose Eccles. “If we begin to make more progress and the community advertises our campus as a welcoming environment for trans* people, we need to provide that.”
Yet, even the process of changing the signage isn’t so simple since some feel it enforces the gender binary.
“It’s actually having to take on the system in a bigger way and say these symbols are problematic because they still perpetuate a binary form of identification,” Abbott said of the stick figures currently symbolizing men and women’s restrooms.
Eccles echoed Abbott’s concerns about the current signage combining the male and female stick figures, which are not inclusive of gender queer students who don’t identify as male or female.
The Cantú Queer Center is in the process of designing a sign that addresses these issues while remaining accessible to individuals who may not be able to read. The center also plans to post signage explaining the need for all-gender restrooms and pointing students to the location of the nearest all-gender restroom.
Last year, the LGBTQ task force conducted a climate study and found LGBTQ individuals faced a less welcoming environment. Currently, the council is taking a closer look at the data from the climate study for future recommendations.
“The LGBT task force raises issues of fairness and equity, as well as issues of climate and has the potential to improve the lives of UC students, staff and faculty,” said UC Santa Cruz vice president of academic affairs and member of the LGBT advisory council Herbert Lee. “Some of these issues can fall through the cracks. Having a formal body to make recommendations helps elevate these issues.”
While the measure will be implemented UC-wide, there will be no funding allocated for the conversion as the cost is fairly small, Lee added. The advisory council will meet quarterly to continue discussing recommendations to cultivate an environment that welcomes all individuals.
“UC should be the gold standard where these issues are concerned,” UC President Napolitano said in a statement. “We want to look at not only what we are doing now, but also in the medium and long term for our students, staff and faculty and the communities where our campuses are situated.”
Eccles, who applied to UCSC because of its strong reputation as a LGBTQ-friendly campus, emphasized the conversion of single-stall restrooms is not on par with facilities provided for binary genders and said multi-stall restrooms should be converted as well.
“Changing simply the single-stall restrooms is convenient, but not enough. I understand finances are a problem, but the UC cannot continue to say they are the ‘gold standard’ if they aren’t providing for [the needs of trans* students].”
For Abbott, the gold standard would include the creation of campus committees to enforce UC President Napolitano’s recommendation. Such committees would include trans* and gender variant students, staff and faculty as well as individuals who work with campus buildings, policy and finances. Together they would take on the task of pushing for and implementing policies to create a safer environment for all LGBTQ students.
“No one wants to use the restroom. No one enjoys being in the restroom all the time.” Eccles said. “It is everyone’s responsibility to make it comforting for people who just want to get in and out as fast as they can without the risk of violence.”
Trans* is an umbrella term used for individuals who do not identify within the gender binary.