Single stall bathrooms protect transgender students

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(Photo: James Healy/City College News)

By Alison Bergblom Johnson/[email protected]
Staff Reporter

Many transgender students on campus fear and sometimes experience harassment and assault in multi-stall bathrooms on campus leading to long lines for a few easily located, known, and convenient single-stall bathrooms. In addition, according to Andrea Jenkins, a city council policy aide, arrest is a possibility for transgender people using what is perceived as the wrong restroom.

Student Mikael Evangale, who is transgender, said one single-stall bathroom in the H building is so heavily used that staff struggle to get in to clean it. Recently, Roger Broz, facilities director at MCTC, was requested by an MCTC working group of administration, faculty and students to identify single-stall bathrooms on campus. He found more than eight single-stall bathrooms mostly in public areas.

“I don’t understand how people are not familiar [with these locations],” Broz said.

Defining what it is to be transgender, Trey Williams, another transgender student, said, “Some people feel a different gender [than they were born] and others don’t feel a gender at all.” He also said of names:  “The birth name is the name I was born with, the name that my parents gave me when they thought they had a daughter, and the name that I have now is what I named myself and now they have to call their son that.  They don’t have to, but I would like them to.”

While Williams believes it’s not strangers’ business what gender he is, often he’ll be approached with such a query:

“My friends and I were talking and we’re wondering are you a boy or a girl. I thought it would stop in college.”

Evangale refers to the full body stare: hair, chest, crotch. On this topic Jenkins said, “I would be really happy when the gender policing stops.”

Williams speaks of leaving the house being a challenge because he fears of violence.

“I’m generally not perceived by the public as male. I’m usually seen as very gay, and it’s not a safe world to be alive in. I worry most on the bus and in the bathroom.”

Two years ago Williams had an experience that he labeled harassment in a multi-stall bathroom in the T Building. He entered a crowded bathroom and felt safe. “There was this one older man, he was like washing himself with soap by the sink. He had his shirt off and I was like that’s not weird, he might be homeless,” he said.

When he came out of the stall everyone had left except for this man.

“He said  ‘You know this is the men’s room.’

I said ‘I’m a guy.’

‘Oh I’m sorry, you’re so small,’

I was like ‘no problem man, it happens all the time.’”

At this point, Williams began to leave and the man shook his hand and stated he wanted to apologize. Then, “he pulls me in for a hug, and I’m not sure what’s going on. He takes his hand across my breasts, and he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I was just checking,’” Williams said.

Williams remained for a moment, then pretended to receive a phone call and left.

“I wish I had remembered his name because he told me. And all I could think of was how uncomfortable that was,” Williams said, “That’s the only time I’ve been genuinely afraid.”

For awhile Williams used the single-stalled bathrooms in the K building. Eventually, Williams went back to using multi-stall restrooms on campus because he felt uncomfortable using ‘handicapped’ bathrooms.

“Obviously I’m not physically handicapped, and I don’t want people to look at me weird, but that’s the only place I feel safe,” he said.

Derrick Lindstrom, Dean of Arts and Humanities, said in an email that “Single-stalled bathrooms are for public use. My concern is that MCTC is a welcoming environment to all students.”

Minneapolis recently passed a resolution allowing restaurant and bar owners with single stall bathrooms that lock to be labeled in gender non-specific ways. Jenkins, the policy aide, helped develop the language and move the resolution through the council. According to Jenkins, the change will be not only help transgender people but also families with young children, and situations when there are long lines for the women’s bathroom and no line for the men’s bathroom.

The resolution will help transgender people as well, and Jenkins noted how important it is for people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity without fear of harassment.

Referring to gender-neutral bathrooms, Tara Martinez, director of student life, said “[This is] something that has not come up too often in terms of students asking. In my tenure, I’ve only had two different students either email or call and ask about a trans-friendly bathroom.” Nevertheless, a group of faculty, administration and students met over the summer to address this issue.

Lindstrom led the group whose members were Martinez, Whitney Harris, Director of Diversity, Becky Nordin, interim Dean of Students, Heidi Aldes, advisor to the student LGBT group PRIDE, and students including Morgan O’Sullivan. Several different strategies were proposed, including changing signs and publicizing where single-stall bathrooms are.

According to Lindstrom, the impetus for the group was a presentation at the Spring MnSCU conferencee by the GLBT/women’s coordinator at Metro State and the Assistant Director of the GLBTA programs office at the University of Minnesota. Lindstrom said, again in an email, that “the group looked at the current signage and felt comfortable with it and the plans were then forwarded to go up on the web right around the beginning of the [fall] semester.”

Martinez said that she was unaware of what progress had been made in the group after the group last met around July 22. O’Sullivan was surprised to hear that there would be no change in signage. She had understood the group would meet with the sign vendor as suggested by Broz to review other options.

In addition, the plans Broz created showing the single-stall bathrooms have not been posted to the MCTC website, nor have any lists of single-stall bathrooms been posted. Lindstrom did not respond to an emailed follow-up question asking why the plans had not been posted.

There were also proposals from outside the group, including from Nate Krantz, who is on the platform committee of MCTC student senate and chair of the diversity committee of the Minnesota State College Student Association. He would like to see state bonding money used to rehab multi-stall bathrooms into gender-neutral, multi-stall bathrooms. This would involve removing urinals and replacing stalls with gaps between doors with ones with no gaps. O’Sullivan said this proposal was rejected by the group due to cost.