Unisex bathrooms are needed in an evolving society

Hayley Devitt

Last week, when I was asking around for “NIU First-World Problems,” someone whose name I didn’t catch offered me what I considered a “Real NIU Problem:” A young transgender man said our campus needs unisex bathrooms.

For those who do not know, transgender individuals identify themselves with a gender other than the biological sex they were born with. Unfortunately, many do not know how to respond to the needs of the transgender community or do not take them seriously enough.

Many trans students have to plan their whole day around when to use the bathroom. They won’t have anything to drink while at school in order to avoid going into a public bathroom where they won’t be accepted by either sex.

I went to a high school and a community college that had single-occupancy facilities in addition to multiple stall bathrooms, and they were convenient for anyone needing the extra privacy.

I don’t know how possible it would be to install at least one single-stall in every building at NIU, but it might be feasible to convert existing bathrooms into unisex ones.

That is what Grant High School in Portland, Ore., did last month to accommodate their 10 openly transgender students. According to an article on advocate.com by Michelle Garcia, the project took a few weeks to complete. The vice principal of Grant High School had even said it only cost the school “a few hundred dollars.”

I was pleased to discover that NIU’s Housing and Dining division is willing to make provisions for trans students by way of private dorm rooms and access to private bathrooms in the residence halls.

When talking to fellow students, I was in luck when I met junior biology major Michael Sunderman because he is working on a guidebook for trans and gender non-conforming students coming to NIU. Although Sunderman identifies as cisgender, he wants to make NIU more trans-friendly and make help for trans students as accessible as possible.

The book will go on the LGBT Resource Center’s website and will bring social support resources as well as helpful instructions for name changes and, as Sunderman says, “put that information in one spot.”

Abigail Mungai, freshman music education major, filled me in another issue that often gets overlooked.

“My best friend is trans,” Mungai said. “And he likes to sometimes dress up as different a gender or no gender… You can dress however you want but still need to be called by their preferred name and pronouns.”

I’m sure a lot of what I’m arguing for will be called “the many bowing to the few,” but we cannot go on ignoring the transgender and gender non-conforming few. I’m only calling for equalizing action on campus. I think private bathrooms would benefit everyone and put us one step closer to making gender a non-issue.