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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Giving gender-neutral restrooms a second thought

    David Franciscolumnist
    David Francis
    columnist

    In recent months, students and university officials have mostly shown support for the idea of creating gender-neutral restrooms. The concept has gained widespread backing at universities around the country – namely at schools like the University of Chicago, Harvard and Brown – but the UA’s own Statement on Restroom Access leads the pack and is looked upon as a model for other schools.

    But are gender-neutral restrooms entirely necessary? Why should the university go through the effort and expense of converting currently gendered restrooms into genderless ones?

    First, some perspective. The idea of gender-neutral restrooms isn’t an all together terrible one. But the initiative entails a number of problems.

    Converting restrooms to gender-neutral means fewer gendered restrooms, and that’s not fair to the majority.

    First and foremost, university officials would do well to bear in mind the often forgotten adage, “”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”” According to the university’s own nondiscrimination policy, individuals are already allowed to use whichever restroom they best identify with.

    That makes sense. It allows transgendered individuals the dignity of using the appropriate restroom. If someone makes a concerted effort to change his or her appearance to reflect his or her psychological gender identity, then he or she should use the restroom he or she most identifies with.

    In addition, such a policy helps thwart confusion or even fear on the part of restroom users. If a biological female who chooses to look and act like a male were to walk into the women’s room, you can bet somebody would be startled by the intrusion of an apparent male into a place where such intrusions are often perceived as acts of sexual exploitation.

    That’s why we let transgender individuals use the restroom of their chosen sex. There haven’t been any real problems with the policy because few students care or even notice when a transgender person walks into the loo next door.

    The system ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.

    The second problem with converting restrooms to be gender-neutral is the potential cost of such a project. The project would, in many cases, involve a lot more than simply changing the sign on the door.

    Granted, there are a small number of single-stall restrooms that could easily be converted to gender-neutral facilities. According to comments made by initiative spearhead Jeanne Kleespie at a recent Associated Students of the University of Arizona Senate meeting, 35 single-stall units already exist on campus. Since that’s such a small number, conversions of multi-stall units would be necessary in order to effect any real change. This is where the cost comes in – urinal removal from multi-stall male restrooms would be a necessity in order to convert a significant number of units. That’s expensive.

    In today’s world of ever-escalating tuition amounts, the university should exercise some fiscal responsibility here. Are students aware of the financial repercussions of this proposition? After all, we’re the ones who would likely end up shouldering the cost.

    Third, let’s keep in mind comfort issues for students, most of whom are not transgender. Converting restrooms to gender-neutral means fewer gendered restrooms, and that’s not fair to the majority. Many will be forced to use genderless restrooms simply because there isn’t a men’s or women’s room nearby. Some students, of course, are uncomfortable doing their thing in the presence of the opposite sex.

    Converting to genderless restrooms in the name of better serving the minority is unfair to the majority of students who are not transgender, because many of them would prefer gendered restrooms.

    Transgender individuals should be able to use the restroom of their chosen sex, so there’s no need to convert to genderless restrooms at the expense of students. Transgender people are still gendered – why go to great lengths to create genderless restrooms in their name?

    Of course, as a happily gendered male, it’s likely a bit presumptuous of me (or anyone else) to assume the needs and desires of transgender people. At the same time, it is unfair for the university to pay for conversions without the consent of the students who will pay for them.

    That’s why the decision should be made by students – in the form of a ballot measure similar to those that will appear on this spring’s ASUA election ballots. At the very least, President Robert Shelton and the administration should conduct a poll of students after informing them of the estimated costs (in terms of both a dollar amount and lost gendered restrooms) of the project.

    Only then would the university truly be serving the interests of its students.

    David Francis is a pre-business sophomore. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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