Jamie Epstein first realized bathrooms were a place of gender conflict while at a train station a year ago. They had short hair and wore baggy clothes. While in the stall in the women’s room, Epstein noticed that the bathroom had become silent, and they stepped outside. Everyone had left — except for the custodian.
After a long silence, the custodian asked Epstein if they were a man. When Epstein said no, the custodian explained that all of the women had left because they thought that there was a man in the women’s bathroom.
Although Epstein laughed it off at the time, they explained this encounter helped to solidify their beliefs in the importance of all-gendered restrooms.
“It was a turning point when I realized … [that] I need to now think about what bathroom I use depending on how I look that day. Sometimes I will use men’s bathrooms and sometimes I will use women’s bathrooms,” said Epstein, a fourth-year and queer student organizer. “If there was an all-gendered bathroom, it would take away me having to think about how I look and how people are perceiving me. I could just be like, ‘Oh, I have to pee.’”
As of July 1, 2015, the UC Task Force and Implementation Team on LGBT Culture and Inclusion will enforce new University of California guidelines for providing gender-inclusive facilities funded by the UC. In the past, UC Santa Cruz’s Lionel Cantú Queer Center has worked with students and faculty to create all-gendered restrooms without financial support from the UC.
Jean Marie Scott, the associate vice chancellor of risk and safety services, is part of an implementation workgroup that the campus appointed. The group has been working to address facility-related needs for the transgender community.
“The campus will be more holistically prepared and able to communicate where we have inclusive facilities and where [people] can find restrooms and shower rooms,” Scott said. “That information will be more prominent in terms of our signage and on our campus maps.”
Currently, 37 of the single-stall bathrooms at UCSC have been converted to all-gender. These new guidelines support those who don’t fall within the gender binary.
The UC’s involvement relieves the Cantú Queer Center of the cost. In the past, signs have run around $100 each. Although the signs will continue to be the main expense associated with restroom conversion, it’s still unclear which university funds will cover the costs.
“Once we know what the final signage is going to be … we’ll [submit] a budget request to the campus to do that,” Scott said. “It’s not financially doable for the Cantú Center to take responsibility for that … because it would be too costly.”
The design for new signage is still up in the air. Current signs have a picture of a toilet and wheelchair and say “All Gender Restroom.” Scott said the university isn’t bound to the current design. The UCSC implementation workgroup has tasked a subcommittee with creating three different design options.
“We are going to launch a website and make the information available to the community so we can actually get input from [everyone],” Scott said. “Once we have a final signage package, we’ll develop an implementation plan to update the signage.”
The Cantú Queer Center’s “Free 2 Pee” campaign has stressed the importance of geographic location for gender-neutral bathrooms. A trans or genderqueer student may have to go out of their way to find a bathroom where they feel safe, so location becomes an important factor in creating all-gendered restrooms, said queer organizer Jamie Epstein.
“If that’s interrupting their ability to get to class on time or if it’s taking away 20 minutes out of their work — which could have been a three-minute bathroom break — then it starts to impede on much more than just one person,” Epstein said.
To increase exposure, the “Free 2 Pee” campaign has created an “All-Gender Restrooms” map, highlighting the current bathrooms on campus. Epstein, who was talking about the same implementations two years ago, expressed their frustration on the lengthiness of the process.
“Now we charged a task force to implement it, and it’s all these things they say they’re doing when they’re actually not doing really anything,” Epstein said. “We should honestly be going around just putting signs up that say ‘This is All Gender.’ At least one in each building.”
Although the single stalls will be converted into all-gendered restrooms, multi-stall restrooms aren’t required to be changed under the UC guidelines, Scott said.
“When changing bathroom policies, you want to be mindful of all people’s concerns and priorities while highlighting why it is necessary,” said Interim Director of the Cantú Queer Center Tam Welch. “It’s a complex conversation and the [implementation team] wants to do it right the first time.”
In compliance with the guidelines, the campus will also hire a transgender educator who will serve as a counselor and advisor for the trans community on campus.
“It’s exciting to create visibility for communities that historically haven’t had visibility,” Welch said. “Putting value into hiring a professional full-time staff who can really start creating comprehensive education across campus here at UCSC is key.”
The community at the Cantú Queer Center has continually stressed the importance of all-gender restrooms to the UCSC community.
“[It’s] a priority for transgender students as well as gender nonconforming folks,” Welch said. “If bathroom visibility and safety is valuable for one person within the LGBT community, it’s clearly a valuable conversation for the whole campus.”
If you have any questions about the new guidelines and the task force, email Jean Marie Scott (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ciel Benedetto (email@example.com).