Senate promotes equality through gender-neutral restrooms resolution

Mollie Schaefer, member of the Student Welfare Committee, presents the gender-neutral restrooms resolution to the Senate floor Nov. 20. Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 24-0-3.

College is a stressful time in the lives of all students. And to one UNA student, college is even harder when facing the risk of being harassed in the restroom.

“School is rough enough and when you’re having to constantly watch your back and feeling like there is no protection for you, it makes it even worse,” he said. “It’s not fun having to scope out bathrooms that you can go to and then, the whole time before you go through that door, wondering if somebody else is going to be there, wondering if they are going to make a comment, if when you come out somebody sees you and gets in your face and says hateful things — even threaten to beat the crap out of you.”

The student, who asked to remain anonymous, citing fears of safety for both him and his family, described multiple incidents of harassment.

The student talked about a time he left a restroom in Stevens Hall and was confronted by “a group of guys that blocked my way, surrounded me and threatened to kick my ass.”

The student said the males told him there was no place on Earth for people like him and the death of all transgender people would make the world a better place.

Often, if he went into women’s restrooms while females were there, he would be called names like “dyke” and be laughed at. Once a group of girls started quoting Bible passages about homosexuality and sin among themselves, he said.

The student said all of the stress and pressure of being transgender while being in school is mentally draining.

He told his story to SGA Senate Nov. 20, inspiring the senators to pass a resolution asking the university administration to create gender-neural bathrooms on campus.

Although there is limited data on the size of the transgender population, it is estimated that 0.3 percent of all American adults are transgender, according to Pew Research Center.

There is not research available regarding the transgender population at UNA. However, SGA senators said campus restrooms need to accommodate all people.

The resolution will help LGBT students, as well as parents with small children of the opposite sex who have business being on campus, said Senator Nikki Messer, co-author of the resolution.

Jacob Ezell, Title IX Advisory Board student member and former senator, said it is important for students to remember not all campus restrooms will be converted to gender-neutral if the administration chooses to act on SGA’s resolution.

Ezell also said the goal of the resolution was not to decide which restrooms should be changed or how the options need to be provided, but rather to make suggestions to administration.

“It should be the role of the university and the administration and facilities to determine how they want to provide these,” he said. “This is just saying we want the option to be available.”

The resolution calls for a gender-neutral bathroom in every building or building cluster on campus. The resolution specifies which existing restrooms on campus Senate recommends changing to gender-neural, as well as asks that each new building include a gender-neutral bathroom.

SGA Treasurer Adam McCollum said the costs to UNA would be $27 per sign and $100-150 per deadbolt. Both items will be required to change an existing “men’s” or “women’s” restroom to gender-neutral.

“It’s that easy to make a gender-neutral restroom — just by changing a sign,” Ezell said. “If the university doesn’t want to create these just by changing signs, they can build new ones or use ones that are only a few stalls and change it to one person. There are a lot of options.”

Prior to the start of the Senate meeting, many students, alumni and community members sent their comments and concerns about the resolution to Senate.

“I will say that I have heard a lot of negative feedback on social media, and I feel as though 90 percent of this comes from ignorance,” said Secretary Samuel Satterfield, during the discussion of the resolution.

Satterfield cited the anonymous student opinion provided to the senators.

“I blame the SGA for not providing enough information on this topic,” he said. “If you really want fitting opinions, then inform what your full intent is.”

Satterfield said he agreed with the student opinion, saying students do not know what the issue is and that SGA should have done a better job of educating them.

“I cannot vote on this issue because the students on this campus are not educated,” said Senator Jensen Joiner during the discussion, who abstained from voting on the resolution.

Senator Jordan Graham disagreed.

“I believe we have done our part to educate students,” Graham said.

Graham said no matter how much effort SGA put into educating students, some people would always be against the resolution because of their religious and moral beliefs, which is “just sad” because a minority is not just a number, it is people.

Junior Anna Luttrell said she would like to see more information about how many students would benefit from the new restroom options.

Junior Sarai Ingle agreed.

“I would like to see a poll,” Ingle said. “How many of our LGBT students and single parents would feel benefited by family bathrooms?”

Both Luttrell and Ingle said they did not want LGBT students or single parents to feel unwelcomed, but they were concerned if gender-neutral bathrooms would be a good investment for the university, considering UNA has more pressing needs, like parking.

Sophomore Matt Hartman said he has no concerns about gender-neutral bathrooms on campus if it makes people more comfortable while using the restroom. However, he believes the issue should have been better advertised by SGA.

“Students should have been better informed beforehand. Lack of information will lead to more complaints about (the resolution),” Hartman said.

The resolution received support from UNA Student Counseling Services and Equality Alabama, the only statewide LGBT advocacy organization in Alabama.

McCollum said he has some doubts if the resolution will actually solve any problems.

“Personally, I don’t believe this was the right move for UNA. With harassment being the main cause for why it was pushed, my concern is, ‘Does this actually fix the problem or is it more about making a politically correct statement?’” McCollum said.

While harassment of transgender students was the most discussed behind the resolution, it is also designed to help “families with care giving responsibilities, such as the care of children, elders, and individuals with disabilities,” according to the legislation.

Although SGA members will not send the resolution to the board of trustees for a vote, the resolution includes a request for a yearly update from administration regarding progress toward implementing the gender-neutral restrooms.

SGA Adviser and Director of Student Engagement Tyler Thompson said the resolution represents SGA’s official stance on the issue and is “like a record of what they have asked the administration to implement.”