ASG and Rainbow Alliance draft proposal for more gender-neutral bathrooms

Ally Mutnick, Assistant Campus Editor

The Rainbow Alliance and Associated Student Government are in the process of developing a proposal that would add more gender-neutral bathrooms to buildings across campus and require they be built in all new University buildings.

The two student groups are part of an ad-hoc committee created by ASG last November in an effort to encourage the University to create more single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms.

 “This is common in other schools — that we consider our peer institutions,” said Rainbow Alliance technology chair Red Lhota, a transgender student who serves on the committee. “It’s a progressive step that we could be taking. Our student body needs it.”

The proposal’s development comes a quarter after three gender-neutral bathrooms were installed in the Technological Institute between the F and G wings.

Rainbow Alliance also started a petition last May requesting more gender-neutral bathroom options before teaming up with ASG on the committee.

Lhota, a McCormick sophomore, said gender-specific bathrooms can be hugely problematic for transgender students as well as students with disabilities who need an opposite-gender person to help them use the bathroom.

“I started transitioning last year and I realized almost immediately how much of a problem (gendered) bathrooms (were) because I didn’t feel comfortable using the women’s restroom but I wasn’t brave enough to use the men’s,” he said. “It’s humiliating to have to wait until you get to your dorm or wherever you live to go to the bathroom.”

The committee, led by Weinberg senior Hayley Stevens, associate vice president for the ASG Diversity Committee, is in the early researching stages. For Members Only’s  ASG senator, April McFadden, who serves on the committee, said they are looking into the gender-neutral bathroom options at other universities.

The former Daily staffer cited Washington University in St. Louis as having more than 70 gender-neutral bathrooms. The school also has an online map that shows their locations.

McFadden said the committee hopes to research and present their findings to the ASG Senate by the end of this quarter. She said their goal is to have the proposal ready to submit the University by the end of the academic year.

She said that personally she would like to see at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every building on campus and two in heavily used multilevel buildings such as Kresge Hall and Norris University Center.

“There are a lot of people that don’t conscribe to the gender binary and it’s uncomfortable,” McFadden said. “Everyone should have a fair way to use the facilities.”

Lhota said a big issue for the Rainbow Alliance is the lack of gender-neutral restrooms on North Campus.

Even after construction, only one of the three new bathrooms in Tech was gender neutral. Lhota alerted Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, who immediately coordinated a sign change.

Quentin Bruhn, the project’s manager in Facilities Management, said the new bathrooms in Tech were constructed to add showers for the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department located in that wing, but he was happy they could accommodate the Northwestern community with gender-neutral bathrooms.

Bruhn said more gender-neutral bathrooms could end up in new buildings because they can include showers, which helps make the building more sustainable by the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

He said the Illinois plumbing code complicates the addition, though, because gender-neutral bathrooms are not included in the required male and female bathroom count and there is limited space in each building.

Bonnie Humphrey, director of design and construction for Facilities Management, said the University is aware of the need for more gender-neutral bathrooms. Facilities Management announced last spring that the new Bienen School of Music building, which has an expected completion date of 2015, will have gender-neutral facilities.

 “The gender-neutral and family bathroom is something where when we have the opportunity to provide that, we certainly have incorporated that into new construction,” Humphrey said.