A popular student center at Northwestern University is the latest college campus facility to embrace gender-neutral bathrooms.
New to campus this fall will be a pair of such restrooms – sometimes called “all-gender” restrooms – at the school’s Norris University Center.
“These are two gender-open bathrooms where students of any gender can go in, and use the restroom, and feel safe, regardless of gender expression or gender identity,”Michelle Margulis, president of NU’s Rainbow Alliance LGBT student group told CBS Chicago.
The number of gender-neutral bathrooms has grown in just the past few years, incity-run facilities, workplaces and, most commonly, college campuses. There are more than 150 schools across the U.S. that have gender-neutral bathrooms, according to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s LGBTQ organization The Stonewall Center.
Just this month, Illinois State University re-labeled their “all family” restrooms to “all-gender,” a move Michael Shane McCreery of the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Ethics and Access said “evidences the university’s efforts to have an inclusive environment.”
In Northwestern’s case, installing a non-gendered bathroom was out of consideration for the comfort of non-gender conforming students rather than safety concerns, Margulis said.
Still, safety and access concerns are what commonly prompt schools to adopt gender-neutral bathrooms. According to the Transgender Law Center, non-binary or trans students have been barred from using the restrooms at their schools while others have been attacked or harassed in restrooms of malls and grocery stores.
Forcing trans or non-binary students to use a traditionally gendered restroom "repeatedly ‘outs’ them to other students or employees and stigmatizes them daily by singling them out and prevents them from having critical peer experiences,” Sasha Buchert, staff attorney for the Transgender Law Center, told HuffPost via email. “Trans and gender nonconforming students should be focusing on their education or getting their job done well, and not about which bathroom they can use.”
Activists maintain the goal is not to make bathrooms “just” for trans and non-binary people, but to make spaces that are safe and accommodating for everyone. Disability rights activists have also come out in support of gender-neutral bathrooms, which typically feature a lockable single-stall unit that has better accessibility for people with disabilities – especially those who may also require help from an assistant or family member who is not of the same gender.