Gender-Neutral Bathroom: Why We Need Them
By: Samantha Bernstein-Naples
Significant controversy surrounds the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms, but how could such a simple change elicit such tremendous outrage? Why is the switch from boys’ and girls’ rooms to unisex bathrooms fought for with such passion and determination? This article will explore the campaign for gender-neutral bathrooms in order to achieve a greater understanding of the true importance of an issue that at first glance appears trivial but beneath the surface speaks to how our world continues to evolve each and every day, sparking heated debates around every bend and spurring much needed social change.
Gender equality has been a battle fought long and hard throughout history that continues to rage on in today’s world. Women and allies of the movement remain determined to establish a more equal and just society in which all humans, regardless of their gender identity, can enjoy equal rights. This battle for an equal society extends itself to question whether or not to implement gender-neutral bathrooms within schools. Women face longer waiting periods due to feminine hygiene-related needs, the tendency to wear more constrictive clothing, and their on average smaller stature, which results in having to use the bathroom more frequently than their male counterparts. The Conversation, a non-profit media outlet that shares the works of researchers and academics, corroborates that in comparison to men, “women take...50% longer” (O’Dwyer) while using the restroom. What may seem like merely a hassle, in essence, is another example of the societal advantage provided to men. The fifty percent longer women are forced to spend in the bathroom due to their biological predispositions means that they are spending significantly less time in the classroom learning. The establishment of unisex bathrooms would level the playing field by allowing all students to acquire knowledge at an equal rate as the long lines that women alone are currently subject to would be evenly dispersed amongst all restroom users.
At the heart of the movement for gender-neutral bathrooms lies the impact that such a shift would have on the lives of transgender and nonbinary students. These students face a unique challenge when prompted to use the bathroom in school, a dilemma that many who perform this task automatically and without a second thought often struggle to wrap their heads around. For non-binary or gender-nonconforming individuals, being asked to choose a bathroom marked strictly for either a woman or a man is a tremendously uncomfortable and invalidating process. Non-binary students are forced to stifle a part of themselves when asked to choose between two bathrooms, neither of which are reflective of who they are. Cristina Jones, the chief people officer of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City, corroborates that asking non-binary individuals to make this decision is “forcing…[them] to make a choice that doesn't necessarily align with their gender identity in order to use the bathroom, which is a basic human need” (Lobell, 2019). Gender-neutral bathrooms would provide a safe place for students who don’t feel accepted and are not represented in the current male/female restrooms found in the majority of schools across the nation. Furthermore, selecting which bathroom to use is an anxiety-producing and oftentimes unsafe process for transgender individuals. Transgender students frequently become the victims of harassment or even violence simply for attempting to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable with. The Chronicle, the newspaper of the College of Saint Rose, confirms that transgender individuals can “face ridicule from either gender, or are at the risk of being attacked” when using the restroom. The harsh gender norms perpetuated by male/female restrooms trigger the verbal and physical abuse that transgender people are forced to endure when attempting to perform the simple task of using the bathroom.
The safeguard that gender-neutral restrooms would provide against such harassment contributes to the passion with which this movement is fought for. Unisex bathrooms would prevent violence from being thrust upon individuals who are perceived to be using the wrong restroom, as such bathrooms would be inclusive of all students regardless of their gender identity. When examining the extent to which transgender students face adversity within schools on a daily basis, the importance of instilling a refuge across the nation in the form of gender-neutral bathrooms becomes increasingly clear. As highlighted by The 2015 United States Transgender Survey Report, where “students [were] asked about their experience in school from K-12” the report revealed that “77 percent of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender had one or more negative experiences, such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, or physically or sexually assaulted” during their school career. The obstacles that these young members of society face fuel the fight for a tangible course of action to be taken, implementing gender-neutral bathrooms, to ease the pressure and the worry placed on these students’ weary shoulders. Finally, The U.S Transgender Survey Executive Summary of 2015 reveals that “one in ten respondents reported that they’d been denied access to a bathroom in the past year.” The mortifying and even traumatizing experience of being physically prohibited from using the bathroom would be remedied by a shift to all-inclusive restrooms where no one group of people is made to feel more entitled to exercise the fundamental right of every human to use the bathroom of their choice. Gender-neutral bathrooms would help to protect the safety and the mental health of transgender youth and would further schools in their duty to act as sanctuaries of acceptance.