“Gender Identity” Restrooms at U Arizona

Feb 24, 2009 | 

Catherine Pavlich

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“Gender Identity” Restrooms at U Arizona

Feb 24, 2009 | 

Catherine Pavlich



In 2006, then University of Arizona President Peter Likens issued a statement regarding restroom access on campus. He wrote, “In keeping with the University’s policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity, the University allows individuals to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.” He went on to define “gender identity” as:

 an individual's actual or perceived gender, including an individual's self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior, whether or not that self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the individual's sex at birth as being either female or male.

Later that year, Jeanne Kleespie, Assistant Vice President for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, sent an email through a University listserv recapping the policy and reporting its espousal by the new UA president. In honor of Transgender Awareness week, Kleespie announced, the UA Center for Student Involvement and Leadership would host the showing of a documentary film called “Toilet Training” for those who wanted to learn more about “restroom access as it pertains to the transgender community.”

In the article below, Catherine Pavlich, an undergraduate journalism student at the University of Arizona, points out how the UA restroom policy discriminates against heterosexual students, who are put in a vulnerable position when people are allowed the option of choosing a restroom based on their current perceived “gender identity.”

Transgender students, who may otherwise have been largely ignored, have sought for some symbolic cause whereby their identity group could be recognized and made salient by the community. They claimed victimhood to get noticed, and chose restrooms for their battleground. Similar to the safe space movement, which insists that LGBTQ persons are in ever-present danger and should be able to retreat to a safe haven (a sympathetic faculty member’s office, a student “ally’s” dorm room, etc.), the restroom access movement insists that division of male/female bathrooms is inherently oppressive to those who have a flexible concept of sexual difference.

 

Restroom access, thus, has been framed as a popular new civil rights issue, and colleges have caught on to what they now see as a just cause. The News Observer reported that on many campuses, the push for gender-identity restrooms has been prompted by the advocacy of transgender students who see restrooms as their Woolworth’s. “It's all part of a social movement that reflects the diversity in our society,” said Senator Janet Cowell, who has worked to double the number of female restrooms in Raleigh bars, restaurants, theaters and arenas. A website called safe2pee.org helps people find “gender-free, inclusive” bathrooms in cities across North America. The website describes itself as a project run by “a genderqueer hackers collective with a sense of humor and some anarchist tendencies.”

In taking up the Transgendered Man’s/Woman’s Burden, the University of Arizona assumes as fact that there is no true difference between “male” and “female,” and that the two sexual categories are mere social constructs (see video from NAS conference, where AAUP president Cary Nelson says, “In my view and the view of many others, all human understanding is culturally constructed...So consequently, I teach the cultural construction of gender as true, just as I teach the cultural construction of all meaning as a fact of human life.” http://www.nas.org/Cary_N_os.cfm - a little over halfway through). This concept has gained momentum in recent decades as feminists have asserted that gender roles were invented by society and do not reflect innate differences between men and women.

From the social construction of gender come the denial of heteronormativity and the disposal of the idea that there should be some privacy or separation between the sexes. In her book A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit writes that she realized “why I was uncomfortable with the coed bathrooms I encountered at college”—because modesty had been discarded. The gender-free restroom movement, like therapeutic secret-broadcasting, delights in nurturing self-celebration and “perceived” rather than true identity. It is ultimately a sign of our culture’s lost modesty.

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The University of Arizona Restroom Access Statement can be found at:
http://fp.arizona.edu/affirm/restroomaccess.htm.

 

 * * *

The push for “diversity” on many college campuses throughout the country has gone too far.

The University of Arizona is one of the most transgender friendly colleges in the country according to the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies UA website.

But does this make the University of Arizona less friendly to heterosexual students who make up the majority of the university population? When the rights of heterosexual students are infringed upon in the name of diversity, the answer is yes. Examples of the violation of privacy of heterosexual students are hidden in the fine print, and many students don’t even know it is there. The restroom policy at the University of Arizona is one of those fine print policies.

At the University of Arizona, all students are allowed to use whichever restroom, male or female, that they choose, putting heterosexual students at risk for assault and violation of privacy. These “gender neutral restrooms” and the policy that goes with them were implemented on behalf of the transgendered students feeling discriminated against because they aren't comfortable with being forced to use one specific restroom.

When I called various offices on campus to get more information about the policy, no one seemed to know about it or just simply weren't going to talk about the origin of the policy. Although the policy was made on behalf of the LGBT, Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender studies group on campus, when I called their office for more information about why they wanted this policy implemented, they told me it would be better to talk to the Diversity Resource Office on campus. When I called the Diversity Resource Office, the Director Dr. Raji Rhys-Wietecha said that she wasn't on the committee anymore for this topic, and I was told by the secretary to call a woman by the name of Mary Beth Tucker at the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office.

Once I got in contact with Mary-Beth Tucker, she told me because she was not on the committee at the time the "statement on restroom access at the University of Arizona" was passed and signed in 2006, she did not know much about the policy. She did tell me however that the university president at the time, President Peter Likins, fully supported the statement.  

If the goal of the University is to "create and sustain a campus environment that supports and values all members of our community," why does the restroom access policy at the University of Arizona violate the privacy rights of the majority of heterosexual students at the University? The scary thing is, according to Mary Beth Tucker the trend is popular among many universities across the country, including the University of California, Oregon State University, the University of Vermont..

It is understandable that the university wants to respect a mother or father taking their child into a restroom, as well as giving caregivers the convenience of helping someone into a restroom; any reasonable person would not object to these actions, but only in these two cases does this policy make sense.

“Obviously I understand parents with an opposite sex child using the restroom, but I can see where they are going with it,” said Ashley Ralston-Alvarez, a junior at the University if Arizona, “there are too many loopholes that come with it.”

Using parents and caregivers as an excuse for an open door allowing anyone to choose which restroom they feel like using is unfortunate.  

The University of Arizona claims that the reason for implementing the policy was to avoid discrimination against gender identity. The university defines gender identity as "an individual's actual or perceived gender, including an individual's self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior, whether or not that self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the individual's sex at birth as being either female or male." This definition leaves room for excuses that may or may not be true for abusing restroom access rights.

Before attending the University of Arizona, Ashley Ralston-Alvarez attended Pima Community College, where she explained an incident regarding a male using the female designated restroom.

“When I was at Pima we had an issue where a male was sitting in the middle stall in the female restroom and grabbing women from underneath,” she said. Leaving the option open for anyone to use any restroom makes room for people with the same motives as the male at Pima to take advantage of and abuse the policy for inappropriate reasons, violating privacy and the rights of all students.

It is no different at a university. If a male wants to go into the female specific restroom at the University of Arizona for any reason, he can easily accomplish his goal by claiming he was being discriminated against based on gender identity, whether or not he is transgendered. Men are now able to enter the women's restroom freely as well as women using men’s restrooms because of this policy. The university also believes that "transgendered individuals may be subject to harassment or violence when using male or female-specific restrooms. Consequently, this statement has been developed to declare the University’s commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive campus environment."

“They are helping one group out but what does that do for most of the student population?” Ralston-Alvarez said.

Have they thought about the harassment female and male students may receive from other students because of gender-neutral restrooms? Being inclusive in this case has gone too far. Women are especially at a heightened risk on college campuses to harassment and violence due to the implementation of this policy.

While the university believes that by implementing this policy it is not participating in discrimination, the majority of the students who are in fact not transgendered, are being discriminated against by being forced to accept any gender, male, female, transgendered, into either gender specific restroom. Not only does this make heterosexual students uncomfortable, it increases the risk of sexual assault and invasion of privacy.

“I would definitely feel very uneasy about it,” said Ralston-Alvarez after being asked how she would feel about having the opposite sex in the female restroom with her.

Ultimately the restroom access statement at the University of Arizona may benefit a small minority of transgendered students, but overall poses a threat to privacy and increases the potential for harassment towards heterosexual students.

 

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