Are UMass' Gender-Neutral Bathrooms the Answer to Transgender Discrimination?

Despite a recent spate of discrimination against transgendered people, in state laws, retail establishments, and public education, the University of Massachusetts Boston has recently taken a step towards making its community buildings more trans-friendly. Hopefully, other universities and public facilities will follow its lead.

The University of Massachusetts student government unanimously supported a new policy that would include gender-neutral bathrooms in all new campus buildings as part of the university's "commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive campus environment." While the students' would like such facilities to be included in all university buildings, it recognizes that retrofitting the buildings might not be feasible. In those cases, it supports the current university policy, which allows students to use the restroom designated for their gender identity or to use the gender-neutral bathrooms in each dorm and choose dorms with gender-neutral showers.

That policy, though, the student government argues, is not as sufficient protection for trans-gendered students. The speaker for the student government, Joey Nguyen, noted that transgendered students have been harassed in university bathrooms. The students believe that the inclusion of gender-neutral bathrooms as a choice – not a requirement – could help those students.

Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia forbid discrimination based on gender identity or expression, including Massachusetts. While it is good that those areas protect transgender and gender non-conforming residents, it still leaves 63% of Americans living in areas without anti-discrimination protections for transgendered residents. The federal government does not ban discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

While only 0.3% of Americans identify as transgender, it is important for the United States to ensure equal rights for that community. Point three percent of American means that, in the United States, 934,000 people have to worry about losing their jobs or apartments and being harassed when they try to use a bathroom because of their gender identity. Matters that many Americans consider part of daily life are greatly complicated for transgendered Americans, who face discrimination in the workplace, in education, in health care, and at home, and for whom 34 states offer no legal anti-discrimination protections.

The status quo is unacceptable. Thank you, University of Massachusetts students, for supporting this important fight for gender identity equality, because, as Joey Nguyen said, "separate isn’t equal." It is not equal in theory, and it is not equal in practice.

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