Work on Gender-Neutral Bathrooms Continues

At the beginning of the school year, a group of students organized and called themselves the Gender-Neutral Bathroom Action Group. A group called PISSAR—People In Search of Safe and Accessible Restrooms—that was formed at the University six years ago inspired them.  According to a previous member of the group, Skylar Bihl, Assistant Director of CICE and Puget Sound alumnus ‘08, the PISSAR’s goal was to incorporate the disability rights movement into collaboration with queer rights work to create fully accessible restrooms.

For many queer students, using a regular bathroom is a daily struggle.

“When I’m presenting as feminine and if I use a men’s room, not only am I forced to relive the ritual humiliation of being trans in cis society, but also [I] am not safe in a room full of men…,” junior C.J. Queirolo said. “But even if I’m presenting feminine and use a women’s room, I’m still read as ‘male’ or as ‘man’ because of my physiology, and sometimes people will say ‘this isn’t the men’s room,’ mis-gendering me, enacting humiliation and shame and, really, a gender-neutral bathroom is just a space that is accessible and safe for trans people to use a bathroom. Other people can use it also.”

After initial protests aimed at getting the attention of the Union Board, the GNBAG began working with the Union Board, a subcommittee in ASUPS Senate. Since Union Board oversight is limited to implementation of  gender-neutral bathrooms in Wheelock, they also worked with the Accessibility Work Group, another subcommittee in ASUPS, to implement broader change on campus.

Last Semester, Associate Vice President for Facilities Services, Bob Kief, submitted a code request change proposal to the Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA) Standards and Codes Council’s Work Group and International Code Council.

“In general, we would like the code to require a gender-neutral, single-user toilet facility shall be available for every building,” Kief said.

A letter in support of this code change was presented to the Senate in November. The APPA is an association across North America where facility services from various institutions come together to adapt, enhance, and transform facilities. This open letter outlined the importance of having gender-neutral, ADA-accessible bathrooms on campus, while also commenting on how it would support the social challenge of creating the inclusive and progressive environment Puget Sound is known for.

The letter was passed almost unanimously in the Senate, and many faculty members like President Ronald Thomas supported the APPA letter as well.

There are new gender-neutral bathrooms in the S.U.B. and in Thompson but there are relatively few gender-neutral bathrooms in academic buildings. Pushing for gender-neutral bathrooms in all academic buildings is the new focus for GNBAG. GNBAG has been working closely with Sarah Comstock, the Director of Student Life Operations, the Union Board, as well as facilities services. There are already plans to build two new gender-neutral bathrooms in Jones Hall and Seward this summer.