The Daily Gamecock

Column: Campus must have gender-neutral spaces

There are exactly two places on a college campus that are unequivocally private: bedrooms and bathrooms. They are places of respite, designed in part to catch one’s breath before diving back into society.

But, for a certain kind of student, these private rooms are places of unnecessary anxiety and tangible fear. For transgender students, the choice between using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify or the one designated by their birth certificate can have serious consequences.

For Cathy Santos, a second-year political science student who considers themself “agender,” that threat is a real one. 

“For some transgender people, using the bathroom that corresponds with the gender their assigned with at birth can be dangerous, because perhaps society doesn’t perceive them as that assigned gender any more,” they said. “Either bathroom they go into, they could get attacked.”

According to a 2013 survey published in the Journal of Public Management and Social policy, 70 percent of responders reported that they were “denied entrance, were harassed or assaulted” when they attempted to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. 

This is where gender-neutral initiatives come in. The idea is simple: gender-neutral housing and restrooms do not consider the gender of those who use them.

The case for gender-neutral spaces on a university campus is also simple: They provide a comfortable place for those who don’t consider themselves to be a part of either gender. It doesn’t require hours of hard study or a complete grasp on the historical development of queer theory to understand a sentiment as obvious as that.

With this in mind, the necessary question becomes: What has USC done to implement them?

The answer: not much.

In fall 2013, BGLSA and Student Government jointly distributed a survey asking students what they thought about initiatives to construct gender-neutral housing and bathrooms on campus.

After this, the issues seemed to drop off the face of the earth.

Two years later, USC is still one of many universities that does not provide gender-neutral housing. While trans students have the option to request special accommodations considered by the university on a case-by-case basis, there is no designated building (or hall) where they can go without the risk of being paired with someone who will not understand them or their identity.

There is no designated living place at USC where someone’s identity takes precedence over the letter stamped on their driver’s license.

The state of gender-neutral bathrooms is somewhat better. Last year, a group of students counted six buildings that had gender-neutral bathrooms and are working to create a campus map. (The “Bathroom Brigade” initiative of the Trans Student alliance, of which Santos is a co-founder, is currently updating this number.)

Caleb Coker, a fifth-year music education student who identifies as gender queer, said that a revamped gender-neutral initiative would have to come from a demonstrated need. 

“If this even affects one student, I think it’s worth it,” they said. “I think that it shows that the university is willing to install policies — and actually back it up with money — to show that our campus is a safe place for trans students.”

So, how do we make USC a safer place for trans students? How do we provide them with the same private spaces that cis-gendered people take for granted?

For Santos, the current situation on campus must change on a social and institutional level: “I think the ideal situation would be for transgender people who identify in the binary should be able to go into the bathroom they identify with, and they should also feel free to use the gender-neutral restrooms.”

That would require two large shifts: a renewed initiative to create and maintain gender neutral bathrooms by the university and, far more difficult, dispersing the myth that trans people use the restroom of their identified gender for immoral purposes.

“People seem to think that when trans people go into bathrooms, we’re scheming and deviating behind the stall,” Coker said. “The whole thing is rather silly. We’re going into the bathroom to pee. That’s what we’re doing.”

Two years ago, at the time of the survey, The Daily Gamecock wrote the following in an editorial about the gender-neutral housing initiative: “This isn’t a movement to let couples live together or to change the system for the majority of students. Instead, it’s an attempt to give transgender students a basic comfort most of us take for granted.”

Every student deserves to feel safe in the few private spaces accessible to them. It’s more than time for the university and the student body at large to recognize that.