May 13, 2016
Schools add gender-neutral restrooms
By Casey Fitzpatrick, Oak Lawn
and Kate Kronstein, Fenwick
When you open the door to a bathroom, you are greeted with the sign “women” or “men.” For people who are not cisgender, bathrooms have the tendency to become problematic. Since gender-neutral people do not identify with either of those terms or do not feel comfortable with identifying as a certain gender, they feel as if society is blocking them out. By incorporating gender-neutral bathrooms into public areas in different communities, awareness for nonbinary genders is spread in order to create a more welcoming society for trans, genderqueer, agender, bigender or basically anyone else who does not identify as cisgender.
Lauren Buetikofer, a counselor at Life Balance Counseling in Oakbrook Terrace, has discussed the topic of gender neutral bathrooms with members of the LGBT population. She also had a firsthand experience with gender-neutral bathrooms because her graduate school implemented them. Her graduate school labeled its bathrooms “male identified” and “female identified.” The standard bathroom that we are used to lacks the word “identified.”
“The simple act of adding the word ‘identified’ can tell transgender individuals ‘this building/facility/organization is a safe place for you because we are accepting of you,’” Buetikofer said. “Positives include a feeling of inclusion for any individuals who are questioning their gender identity or do not feel that they were born in the right body (transgender individuals), and even a sort of acceptance that they are being recognized and validated as a person.”
Buetikofer explained the dehumanizing feeling that gender neutral people may experience when they come face to face with a bathroom sign, a feeling that sometimes prevents gender-neutral people from using bathrooms at all.
However, with more and more gender-neutral bathrooms appearing in communities nationwide, the societal norms of gender identity are beginning to collapse. It is becoming more possible than ever for a genderqueer or transsexual person to feel like they have a place in the world, too.
Oak Lawn senior Brandon Muro currently does not identify as male or female and prefers to identify as a genderqueer person who uses they/them pronouns.
“I think gender neutral bathrooms are necessary because they provide a safer environment (for people who do not identify as cisgender),” Muro said. “I personally love the idea of using a bathroom that isn’t designated for one gender. As someone who identifies as genderfluid, this makes the idea of using the bathroom less of a task.”
While there is still debate on whether or not gender neutral bathrooms are entirely safe to be placed into public places for potential sexual harassment claims, it is more dangerous for a nonbinary gender to enter a “male” or “female” bathroom because violence is sadly an everyday occurrence for LGBTQ youth. To prevent danger on both sides, some people are discussing the possibility of single-use, unisex bathrooms.
“Single-use, unisex bathrooms include everyone without causing concern for safety, discomfort or bullying,” Buetikofer said.
There is still much work to be done, but some schools in Illinois, including Round Lake and Jones, have taken action to implement gender-neutral bathrooms. Gender-neutral bathrooms have their pros and cons, but many feel the ultimate goal is a good one. By bringing light to the existence of people who are not just “boys” and “girls,” they will become more acknowledged and accepted in everyday communities.
* * * * * *
Breaking it down
Cisgender: People who identify as their biologial gender
Gender-neutral/genderqueer/genderfluid: People who do not identify as one gender or the other, or don’t identify as male or female
Agender: Does not have a definitive gender
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