Cooper Union’s stand on bathrooms


The issue of who gets to use what public bathrooms is an increasingly contentious one with the state of North Carolina, for example, passing a law that would force transgender persons to use the facility according to the gender they were assigned at birth and forbidding local entities from doing otherwise. The new law also “prevents all cities and counties from extending protections covering sexual orientation and gender identity at restaurants, hotels and stores.”

There has been a backlash to this with threats of boycotts and the state has been sued. The state’s attorney general Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has said that he will not defend the law because he thinks is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, as a result of protests by students at Cooper Union, a college in New York, the administration there is taking a novel approach.

Last fall, the oldest building on the Cooper Union campus underwent a sudden renovation. A group of students, agitating for their transgender classmates, stripped the words “men” and “women” off the doors of the Foundation Building’s restrooms.

The act expressed years of pent-up frustration that in lower Manhattan, at one of the most liberal colleges in the country, students who failed to conform to gender norms nevertheless risked harassment whenever they went to the bathroom.

But then, the unexpected happened. The signs were never replaced. And in an apparent first for a US college, the Cooper Union administration this month moved to remove the gender designations from all the bathrooms on campus by taking down the rest of the men’s and women’s signage from bathrooms.

The school has ordered the signs but hasn’t yet placed them in the buildings. Placards outside what was formerly the men’s room will read “restroom with urinal and stalls”, and outside the former women’s room, “restroom with only stalls”.

The change represents a triumph even as the student activists say that the campus can still be an unfriendly place for transgender individuals and those who do not identify with either gender. The dorms remain divided by gender, although the school says it is accommodating of students who request different arrangements.

I was discussing this with a female former colleague and she said that what bothers her is not the presence of people in restrooms whose birth gender is different from hers or from the one they present but the fact that public bathrooms are places where it is easy to feel trapped. After all, the mere presence of a sign is not going to deter someone with bad intent of going into a restroom. What she would really like to see are bathrooms with two doors to make escape easy if she feels that someone seems threatening.

Comments

  1. Blood Knight in Sour Armor says

    In a world without unisex stalls in every restroom this is definitely the cheap and easy way to go. Also mitigates the line effect to an extent ( though I reserve the right to complain if I ever have to wait in line because of it).

  2. StevoR says

    Meanwhile in Kansas :

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/03/kansas-bill-pays-2500-bounty-for-finding-trans-students-in-wrong-bathroom/

    Not sure what the transgender students who simply refuse to go in the wrong bathroom are supposed to do; publicly soil themselves or something as if that won’t result in “potential embarrassment, shame, and psychological injury to students.” Go in the class wastepaper bins or under bushes outside instead maybe? Yeah, that’ll help everyone learn and make the schools safe, hygienic pleasant places to be won’t it?

    Or of course much better yet they could do what this Cooper Union college has done and maybe all the schools can simply make all bathrooms open to all genders i.e. unisex instead? One way round this evil law anyhow.

  3. says

    I don’t care who else is in the bathroom with me as long as they don’t pee all over the floor or the seat, and they remember to flush.

    Of course my attitude reeks of privilege. But I’ll also add that if someone were to ask me to leave any given bathroom at any given moment for any or no given reason – I would, without arguing.

  4. says

    I can almost, if I try to wrap my head around it, understand gender policing, transphobia, and homophobia. What I can’t understand is how angry the gender police, transphobes, and homophobes get. Not only do they want to live in a bland, boring binary world, they get furious to the point of violence at people who show that world isn’t bland, boring, or binary.

  5. busterggi says

    ” The new law also “prevents all cities and counties from extending protections covering sexual orientation and gender identity at restaurants, hotels and stores.”

    Brought to you by the party of small, local government – except when it interfers with bigotry.

  6. Dave Huntsman says

    I tend to agree with going unisex; it’s not like we all don’t know what that’s like from home life and growing up. However…. at home and growing up, there’s at least one female around who makes sure the males clean up after themselves to some degree; something all males can testify to, is lost in male-only bathrooms. I would hope that going unisex would force all the damn males to likewise start cleaning up their acts!

  7. John Morales says

    Dave Huntsman:

    However…. at home and growing up, there’s at least one female around who makes sure the males clean up after themselves to some degree; something all males can testify to, is lost in male-only bathrooms.

    I’m a bloke, and you will not get such testimony from me — in fact, your inadvertent gender essentialism amuses me, sad though it is.

    (Also, way to put the responsibility for managing men on women!)

  8. Blood Knight in Sour Armor says

    Yeah, women’s restrooms have roughly the same potential to be utterly nasty as mens’.

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