States, colleges offer varying rights on transgender bathroom use

Cooper Union removing all gender identifications from restrooms
By: | Issue: May, 2016
April 20, 2016

In March, North Carolina passed a law that public colleges and universities require individuals to use restrooms that match their birth gender.

The controversial “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act,” which also applies to government buildings, jeopardizes $4.5 billion in federal higher ed funds as it potentially violates Title IX statutes, and runs afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina system, which serves more than 220,000 students, confirmed that all 17 campuses will comply.

In stark contrast, Cooper Union in New York City announced in March that it was removing all gender identifications from restrooms, “to help everyone feel safe when they are inside our buildings,” interim President Bill Mea says. Facilities at the college are now marked as “restroom with urinals and stalls,” “restroom with only stalls,” and “restroom single occupancy.”

“It’s ridiculous that we put such a burden on students for such a very basic need,” says Genny Beemyn, director of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s Stonewall Center, the campus resource center for the lesbian, gay and transgender community.

Also the coordinator of the Trans Policy Clearinghouse for Campus Pride, a national nonprofit dedicated to making colleges more LGBT-friendly, Beemyn hails Cooper Union’s decision as a step in the right direction—while cautioning that there could be privacy issues regarding gender-neutral restrooms that have urinals.

UMass Amherst is building 150 single-stall, gender-inclusive bathrooms, which should be open by fall, Beemyn says. Other campuses in the U.S. are creating multi-stall, gender-inclusive bathrooms.

“If a college doesn’t already have gender identity and expression in its nondiscrimination policy, that’s a very important place to start,” says Beemyn. “It can start other things rolling that will require other institutional changes so that trans students aren’t discriminated against.”