Sarah Klyman searched the University of Minnesota campus to find bathrooms that weren’t designated for men or women.
As a social experiment, the individualized studies junior limited herself to only using the University’s gender-neutral bathrooms for one day. But the task was more challenging than she expected.
“It was exhausting,” Klyman said. “I had to plan my schedule around how I was going to be able to use the bathroom, which is a huge inconvenience that you don’t think about.”
Though the University has some non-gender-specific bathrooms sprinkled across campus, some students and faculty say the school needs to add more to make trans and non-gender-conforming people feel more comfortable on campus.
Lars Mackenzie, who identifies as transgender, was part of an effort by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally Programs Office’s Transgender Commission to create a map of all gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. The map includes more than 130 gender-neutral bathrooms on the Twin Cities campus.
Though the map is a step in the right direction, Mackenzie said, it shows some areas the University could improve upon.
“You can see on the map that there are a lot of these bathrooms in use. But they’re not in every building; they’re not on every floor,” he said, “and for people who are seeking gender-neutral bathrooms, it’s a health issue.”
Mackenzie said students who use gender-neutral restrooms might stress about finding a safe bathroom if one isn’t located in the buildings they frequent, and some may not be able to use the restroom at all while on campus.
“For a lot of people, it doesn’t seem like a problem,” he said, “but it’s a huge, constant stressor for people who don’t feel safe using sex-segregated spaces.”
After her experience, Klyman created the student group Safe 2 Pee, which advocates for gender-neutral bathrooms around the University area. The group began in the fall and focuses mostly on increasing the number of gender-neutral restrooms at businesses around campus.
“The Twin Cities is one of the most GLBT-friendly areas, and the University of Minnesota itself is one of the most GLBT-friendly campuses,” Klyman said, “but I was thinking about how our surrounding campus is not so friendly to folks who identify as trans.”
Klyman said her group wants at least 15 businesses to add gender-neutral restrooms to their stores in the coming year. She said the group is using local businesses that already have the spaces, including Your Yoga, the Hard Times Cafe and Espresso Royale, as models for other area shops that want to follow their lead.
Jenna Landry, a member of Safe 2 Pee and the University’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, said she got involved with the cause after MPIRG focused some of its efforts on creating a safe environment on campus for transgender
Landry said though she thinks the University’s GLBTA Programs Office has done well in advocating for transgender students and providing some safe spaces for them, the school could include gender-neutral bathrooms in all buildings.
“I think having that goal of gender-open bathrooms in every building on campus is a really important goal to have,” she said, “because that makes people aware that transgender people want to feel included in the campus and by the administration.”
Some faculty also said the administration should focus more on gender issues.
Jigna Desai, a professor in the gender, women and sexuality studies department, said in addition to adding gender-neutral restrooms, the University should allow students to list their preferred gender pronouns when registering for classes and educate faculty on gender sensitivity.
“There should be places where students, staff and faculty can use the bathroom, [and] there should be more courses [about gender issues],” she said. “There is a lot more work that needs to be done.”