Officials: gender-neutral bathrooms coming to UNA

SGA Senators vote in favor of a resolution urging the university to implement gender-neutral bathrooms on campus at their Nov. 20 meeting. Assistant Vice President for Facilities Administration and Planning Michael Gautney said the administration is currently working to implement the bathrooms.

Progress has already been made toward the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.

SGA Senate Vice President Nick Lang said during the Jan. 22 meeting he had communicated with Facilities Administration and Planning about purchasing deadbolt locks and new signs for the project.

“We’ve not purchased anything yet,” said Assistant Vice President for Facilities Administration and Planning Michael Gautney. “That’s something we’re working on.”

Gautney said Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs Clinton Carter approved the purchases, but the actual buying still has to happen.

SGA Senate passed a resolution urging the university to implement gender-neutral/family restrooms during its Nov. 20, 2014 meeting.

The resolution prevailed with 24 affirmative votes and three abstentions.

Senate Pro Tempore Sarah Emerson, who abstained from the vote, said in November she could not vote on the issue because students were not properly informed about the topic at that time.

Last week, Emerson said Senate’s decision shows the organization’s commitment to serving UNA students.

“I was excited to see how university officials have taken student-driven legislation from the SGA Senate and put it to work,” she said. “A lot of the misconceptions have been cleared up, and a lot of the rumors have died down.”

Emerson said it is the responsibility of the organization to advocate on behalf of the student body.

“This project allowed our Senate to do just that,” she said.

Senior Leslie Clegg said she thinks the single-stall restrooms with a deadbolt lock on the door would not make much difference for LGBTQ students.

“For example, women close the stall doors in a public restroom,” she said. “Men use a urinal, so maybe it would be less uncomfortable to use a public restroom for a male student who was openly gay.”

Gautney said the administration is not wasting time, as the project is moving forward.

“Vice President Carter and I have worked on a list of restrooms we’re going to start with,” Gautney said. “Our focus is to identify single restrooms that we can use for that.”

Senators asked officials to “provide at least one gender neutral/family restroom in each public building on campus or building cluster in some instances,” according to the resolution.

The resolution also states all future building plans should include gender-neutral bathrooms.

When the talk of implementing gender-neutral restrooms arose last semester, many students, faculty, staff and community members expressed concern about multi-stall facilities being converted to gender-neutral.

“Some we looked at may have two stalls,” Gautney said. “But we’re going to go ahead and put the lock on the door and the sign up.”

Title IX coordinator Tammy Jacques said the multi-stall restrooms do not pose a safety threat, as the deadbolt locks on the entrances will ensure only one person occupies the facilities at any given time.

“They’re using these as a one-person use,” Jacques said. “Multiple people cannot use it at one time, unless you’re taking a family in. It turns into a private bathroom.”

Jacques called the Senate resolution and administrative efforts a “huge remedy.”

Before senators passed the resolution, they heard from a student who said he had been harassed and threatened in and near on-campus bathrooms because of the gendered option he chose to use.

“Where Title IX comes into play is, if any student experiences a hostile environment and we are put on notice, we will act, investigate and follow through,” Jacques said. “What it’s saying is we’re being a more inclusive campus. Having gender-neutral bathrooms allows us to have a safe environment for all students.”

Junior Laikyn Michel said the benefit of gender-neutral bathrooms is they create an equal opportunity for students, regardless of their sex or what they identify as.

“It takes away the possibility of people that some may see as ‘different’ being discriminated against or bullied,” she said.

Michel said the bathrooms in no way pose a threat to campus.

“I’ve heard people bringing up the idea that it opens up the chance for more sexual assaults to happen, but really how many assaults happen in public bathrooms now?” she said. “Not many. Most assaults happen by people you know or acquaintances not in public spaces — and a bathroom that either males or females can use doesn’t mean more assaults will happen.”

Jacques said the change will benefit not only transgender students, but also families.

“Many institutions and businesses have gender-neutral or family restrooms,” she said.