Students Fight for Gender-Inclusive Bathrooms

A majority of bathrooms in Conn’s residence halls are labeled only with their purpose, their plaques absent of the typical stick-figure that dictates the gender of intended occupants. But in academic, recreational and administrative buildings around campus, that gender-inclusive accessibility ends. Seeking to change this, a group of students affiliated with the LGBTQIA Center and Center director Erin Duran are working to replace signage, enact policy and raise awareness.

Shay Hicks ’18 and Gray McCaffrey ’19, two former employees of the LGBTQIA Center and student leaders in the current gender-inclusive bathroom initiative, started the project last year under former Center director Jen Manion. According to Hicks, Manion dubbed them the “Gender Committee” and tasked them with confirming a list of gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus. Duran noted a final count of 45 gender-inclusive bathrooms, though Hicks and McCaffrey highlighted some confusing details that evidenced the need for more.

“Most of [the bathrooms on the original list] were either off campus or just nonexistent,” commented McCaffrey, noting that one of the bathrooms on the list, located in Cummings, was clearly labeled “Men’s.” Another was at 33 Gallows Lane.

“If I’m going to use the bathroom, I’m not going to Gallows,” McCaffrey said.

Now, Hicks and McCaffrey continue their work by designing a poster campaign, whose goal Duran defined as, “to start a conversation and remind folks that this issue hasn’t fallen off the table.” Hicks and McCaffrey aim to include concrete and pertinent statistics. “Like the fact that zero people,” McCaffrey offered, “have been assaulted by a transgender person in a bathroom.”

The progress has been slow-moving, they noted, due to lack of communication and limitations on local and state levels. On campus, Hicks and McCaffrey attribute a lack of progress in part to the discontinuation of their employment at the LGBTQIA Center in Fall 2016, when Duran chose not to renew their positions.

“I did various projects that weren’t really part of the job,” said Hicks, explaining that they designed the rainbow-fade insignia which debuted on Spectrum’s club apparel last year. Hicks added that under the assurances of Manion, they had anticipated continuing similar work for the LGBTQIA Center and affiliated groups this year.

“Manion’s big thing as they were going was like, ‘you guys are going to get your jobs,’” noted Hicks. As the current director, Duran was unable to comment on personnel decisions beyond that they “had nothing to do with the bathroom [initiative].”

Hicks expressed perseverance despite the setback, noting: “[McCaffrey and I] have both been doing our best to do what we can for the Center, even though we don’t work there.” In addition to the poster campaign, these efforts have translated into an initiative to convert all single-occupancy bathrooms on campus into being gender-inclusive.

To achieve this, the working group is developing a gender-inclusive sign for bathrooms, which Duran said requires modification “as simple as removing the human from the sign.” Once finalized, the sign will go to Facilities, directed by Trina Learned, whose support Duran, Hicks and McCaffrey all affirmed.

“If we can get the sign to [Facilities],” Duran added, “I’d love to explore with Trina to see if [changing the signs] is something that can get done this summer.”

Longer-term efforts toward gender inclusivity in bathrooms will rely on more than just signage. Duran explained that he and the students working on the project drafted language to be incorporated into student, faculty and employee handbooks to ensure gender inclusivity.

“Essentially,” Duran said, “it would be Connecticut College affirming the rights of community members to use the bathroom that is most in line with how they identify.”

Language proves key in these efforts, as slight discrepancies in terminology have peppered this and many bathroom conversations. Duran clarified: “I am a proponent of gender-inclusive versus gender-neutral, acknowledging that gender might be a core part of some people’s identity.”

Another student involved in the initiative, Moll Brown ’18, found that state codes prevent some multi-occupant bathrooms from being gender-inclusive, limiting the effort’s potential reach..

Despite state limitations, McCaffrey has found Conn administrative reception “pretty positive.” Hicks elaborated that they presented their ideas before Dean of Students Victor Arcelus as the original “Gender Committee” last year. Arcelus voiced support of their cause, though nothing ultimately came of it.

“I think that’s the worst of it,” McCaffrey added, “things not getting done.” While administrative support has been high, a majority of on-campus resistance has stemmed from the faculty, according to McCaffrey, who was informed of faculty skepticism by Manion last year.

With the current state zoning regulations, faculty disapproval of gender-inclusive restrooms is moot in the context of multi-occupancy facilities, but Hicks and McCaffrey continue to express hopes for the future.

“My main thing,” McCaffrey said, “is Bill Hall.” With three multi-occupancy bathrooms in Bill — two for women and one for men — McCaffrey suggested that one could easily be made gender-inclusive, leaving two gendered bathrooms for those who want them.

“Personally,” they added, “I think they should all be gender-neutral, but I’d start with just one.”

“Student support is something that could help us too,” McCaffrey added. Hicks agreed, hoping that the upcoming poster campaign will raise awareness and garner support among the community.