posted 2011-11-18 15:08:17

Nothing Neutral About Gender-Neutral

The Necessity of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms All Over Hunter College

Cynthia Perez, Staff Writer

 I thought I knew Hunter College like the back of my hand; I can guide guests to any administrative office, department or bathroom they ask for. I often bump into visitors on the first floor of Hunter North who ask for directions to the men’s or ladies’ rooms. But as result of our binary gender system, until recently I never realized that there is a third, important choice available for our visitors, students, and faculty: a gender-neutral bathroom.

A gender-neutral restroom is single-stalled, with no designated gender symbols. Rather, they are usually simply marked, "Bathroom." Hunter’s Women’s Rights Coalition was responsible for establishing these gender-neutral bathrooms a few years ago. The bathrooms, which are located in the 68th Street Campus, on the second floor of hunter North, next to OASIS, are open for the public, regardless of biological sex or identity.

Some people I’ve spoken to say they believe that the gender-neutral bathrooms are useless, and that people should simply use the bathroom they believe they are entitled to. But it’s not so simple. The bathrooms are essential in protecting Hunter’s transgender students from the violence, harassment and/or intimidation sometimes directed at them due to gender perceptions.

Across America, many transgender people are harassed or even hurt as result of using the “wrong” bathroom, or not looking like one specific gender. It’s great that Hunter College has a bathroom that allows people to relieve themselves without worry or fear, no matter what their gender is or what they look like.

To clarify, transgender is often used as an umbrella term to describe those who self-identify with a gender other than the one they were born as, those who do not identify with either gender, those who choose to get sexual reassignment surgery, and those who do not have surgery and instead live as whatever gender they please.

The problem with Hunter’s gender-neutral bathrooms is that there are too few of them and that they only exist at the main campus. Hunter’s transgender community would benefit if we had more bathrooms at the main campus and if we brought gender-neutral bathrooms to Hunter’s other campuses, such as at the Brookdale campus and at the School of Social Work. There are transgender students who live or study there too, and it would offer them a safe bathroom zone that would decrease the chances of harassment or violence on those campuses.

However, the public use of these restrooms may somewhat cross the boundary between gender-neutral and unisex. Hunter’s own gender-neutral bathrooms are open to all, and essentially the bathrooms have become unisex in the traditional sense. It has been insisted that gender-neutral bathrooms be used by transgender students only.

But many students at Hunter are also parents with children of the opposite sex. Gender-neutral bathrooms take away the worry of having to enter a bathroom designated for one single gender without getting outrageous looks from bystanders, which I’ve often seen happen. On the weekends, Brookdale hosts Project Happy for disabled teens, and they too would benefit if they had access to the same bathroom as their assistants, if they happen to be of the opposite sex.

If it were up to me, we would have more gender-neutral bathrooms at Hunter’s 68th Street campus, and bring some to Hunter’s other campuses. But I would not limit it to the traditional sense of gender-neutral because they allow for so many other benefits, aside from the protection of transgendered community.

So how’s about it Hunter College? Let’s bring about gender neutrality onto our campus.