Replacement of the sign on the boys’ single-stalled restroom on the first floor of Mudd Library with an all-gender sign to accommodate transgender or gender non-conforming students is creating backlash from some students.
The single-person restroom that locks was previously one of the two men’s restrooms in the Mudd Library. Since the sign has been replaced, there is now one female, one male and one all-gender restroom in the building.
The sign says “All-Gender Restroom” and features a picture of a toilet. Another sign next to the door has male and female icons and the handicap symbol. The Gender-Sexuality Awareness Club, formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, used a Prefect Council grant to replace the sign.
According to a Chronicle poll of 446 students, 33 percent disapprove of the conversion.
“I think it’s kind of awkward that we have to share a bathroom, and in order to avoid awkwardness, it displaces the boys, whereas usually we could just go there without encountering a girl as we’re leaving the restroom,” said Gregory* ’17, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of sounding prejudiced against the LGBTQIA community. “They are the minority and it makes it awkward for 90 percent of people to appease 10 percent of the school.”
He said that sharing a restroom space with the opposite gender or people who identify differently makes him feel uncomfortable. Although it is no longer designated as a men’s restroom, male students can still use it because all-gender is intended to be inclusive to everyone.
“You should go to the bathroom that belongs to the gender that you were born with because it is convenient, and it really can’t bother you that much, and if it does, you need to reorganize your priorities,” Anai Finnie ’15 said. “Your emotions are not so fragile that you need a separate bathroom to protect them.”
Finnie also said that she thinks the all-gender restrooms are not necessary at Harvard-Westlake because this is an open environment where people will not be judgmental. However, she thinks that the restrooms would be necessary in places where there is high risk of emotional or physical trauma.
There are currently two other all-gender restrooms on campus, a student and faculty restroom in Weiler Hall, and a faculty restroom on the third floor of Chalmers Hall, which have never been opposed.
Upper School Dean Tamar Adegbile used all-gender restrooms when she was at Vassar College and said that she doesn’t see why male students would be uncomfortable using the restroom.
Upper school Dean Adam Howard ’93 also agrees that an all-gender restroom on campus is beneficial for giving students a peek at what their college life could be like if they have coed dorms. Many restaurants also have them.
“It’s something new to me, so with all change, you’re really questioning of it at the beginning,” Quentin Mckenzie ’17 said. “When I use a multiple-gender bathroom at a restaurant, I don’t know the person so I don’t really care, but these are people who I go to school with, so it’s more personal and weird.”
GSA president Netanya Perluss ’15 said that she thinks the idea that the all-gender restroom inconveniences male students is self-centered because there is already a large number of male restrooms on campus.
“If you do feel uncomfortable using it, you don’t have to because no one is forcing you to use that restroom,” Perluss said. “I think that’s an intolerant view to have, but also they’re not in control of the bathrooms since we had the administration’s full support.”
Kelly Morrison ’16 said that she supports the all-gender restroom, but the lack of discussion surrounding its implementation was a lost opportunity to start a conversation. Perluss, however, said that the GSA still plans to make a formal announcement in the future and encourages students with questions to attend GSA meetings.
“A student contacted me saying they felt more comfortable and safe at school using this restroom, and even if it’s just one person for whom it made a difference, that enough is reason that we did it,” Perluss said.
Single-stall, all-gender restrooms are becoming an issue nationally.
West Hollywood passed a law that took effect on Jan. 15 mandating that “all single-stall restrooms in businesses and public places … be gender-neutral,” according to the City of West Hollywood website. The law does not affect multiple-stall restrooms and requires that all single-stall restroom signs have non gender-binary images.The Obama administration also installed the first all-gender restroom in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building inside the White House complex, CNN reported April 9. The sign says “Inclusive Restroom” and features the transgender symbol.
Backlash against all-gender restrooms is not exclusive to the student body. In California, a proposed ballot measure called the Personal Privacy Protection Act would require people to “use facilities in accordance with their biological sex, rather than their gender identity” in government-owned buildings, according to the website for Privacy for All, the group proposing the measure. The measure would permit people who felt threatened or uncomfortable by a transgender person in a government-owned restroom to sue that individual or governmental agency for up to $4,000.
Upper school Dean Beth Slattery said that the all-gender restroom is not the first instance in which the school has reached out to support the transgender and genderqueer community, but this is the first instance in which students have expressed opposition.
During her second year as an administrator, a student came out to her as transgender and asked to wear a black robe to graduation instead of a white robe, which is traditionally for females. She also said that multiple students have either made this same request, asked to be called by different pronouns and/or came out as transgender after graduation.
“If we had done [the all-gender restroom] and not explained the rationale behind it, then I think that less people would be upset about it,” Slattery said. “I imagine that if it was ensuring there is an equal number of restrooms for women and men instead of focusing on a particular disenfranchised group, people wouldn’t be up in arms.”
Slattery said she has experience with transgender teenagers in both her professional and personal life and thinks they are a real presence in the community. Harvard-Westlake has been extremely supportive of all students who have come out and asked for help, she said.
“Sometimes progress is uncomfortable because people aren’t used to it,” Slattery said. “I like the idea that we are going in a direction where we are being supportive, and I would hope that we would be a school and a society that would move closer to being inclusive.”