On Gender-Neutral Bathrooms at Columbia

[Content warning: Transphobia]

We were horrified to learn that several dorms at Columbia had residents vote on whether or not to make dorm bathrooms gender-neutral, as opposed to having Columbia create gender-neutral bathrooms of its own accord.

Gender-neutral bathrooms can be a necessary, lifesaving resource for trans and gender nonconforming students. Trans and gender nonconforming people face significant risks when entering binary public restrooms, with an estimated 12% experiencing verbal harassment and 2% experiencing sexual or physical violence in the year prior to being surveyed. Further, binary restrooms force students to choose one of two gender identities, neither of which reflect the identity of many gender nonconforming students on campus.

Gender-neutral bathrooms give trans and gender nonconforming students the option to use a restroom without having to choose a binary gender identity, and make bathrooms safer and more accepting by clearly stating they are for everyone to use. Rather than provide this resource in every dorm, Columbia has chosen to leave it up to students, the majority of whom have never needed gender-neutral bathrooms, to decide whether trans and gender nonconforming students deserve this valuable resource. Disappointingly, several dorm floors ended up denying their occupants gender neutral bathrooms, leaving trans and gender nonconforming students to choose a binary gender identity or move out of their dorm rooms entirely. Forcing students to make this choice and subjecting them to the hate and harassment they often face as a consequence is inhumane and unfair.

Columbia has a duty to ensure all students are treated with dignity and respect. Allowing residents to vote on whether or not they feel “safe” with gender neutral bathrooms — a question that implies cisgender students would be put at risk by making bathrooms gender-neutral — is contrary to that, shocking, and sending a dangerous message about the humanity of trans and gender nonconforming students.

As a group that advocates for survivors of sexual violence, we refuse to let an abstract, baseless “threat” of gender-based violence be a scapegoat for blatant transphobia. We fully endorse creating gender-neutral bathrooms in all campus dorms, and object to the humanity of our trans and gender nonconforming classmates becoming a ballot item.