When was the last time you were afraid to use a restroom?

By Melissa Liu '16

Melissa Liu '16

Melissa Liu '16

You may have noticed a women’s restroom was converted to a gender-neutral restroom  (read: the sign was changed). While a small act, it’s a big step in starting the conversation on transgender inclusion in the Booth community.

A transgender person is someone whose gender assigned at birth is different from who they internally identify with. This includes both those who have elected to undergo transition surgery and those who have not. Although most people don’t think twice about which restroom to use, this decision causes many transgender people anxiety and stress due to potential ridicule or violence from using the “wrong” restroom.

According to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law:

“Which restroom to use?” A simple question cisgender people don’t need to think about.

“Which restroom to use?” A simple question cisgender people don’t need to think about.

  • 38% of self-identified transgender people have avoided public places because they only have gender-segregated facilities
  • 58% reported avoiding going out in public due to a lack of safe public restroom
  • 54% reported suffering a physical health problem (e.g. kidney infection, dehydration, or urinary tract infection) from trying to avoid using public restrooms

In a separate survey, many respondents wrote about being physically abused, verbally harassed, fired, or arrested for using public restrooms.

Here at the University of Chicago, students have a storied history of LGBTQ rights activism, including leading other academic institutions in opening of twelve gender-neutral restrooms in 2004 throughout campus. With no gender-neutral restroom at Harper, Corey Chafin ’14 and OUTreach LGBTQ students & allies approached the facilities administration to address the issue. “We want to ensure our campus at Booth is as safe, supportive, and attractive to transgender students, faculty, staff, and guests as it is to the rest of our Booth community,” read the letter request. The response moved the school one step closer to creating a safer and more supportive environment.

Public restrooms are only one of many challenges that transgender people face. In the U.S., only 19 states currently have protections against employment or housing discrimination based on gender identity. Fortune 500 companies lead the way on LGBT nondiscrimination, with 282 companies including gender identity protections in their policies.

Even with policies in place, further work is needed to provide an inclusive and comfortable environment for transgender employees. According to HRC’s 2014 workplace climate survey, responses about discrimination indicate:

  • 40% hear jokes about transgender people in the workplace.
  • 42% of transgender workers fear getting fired for disclosing who they are
  • 40% report “fear for personal safety” as a reason for not being open.

With your help, we can close the gap. For further resources on transgender inclusion and issues, please visit:

http://www.hrc.org/resources/category/transgender

http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/category/research/transgender-issues/

Melissa identifies as an ally to transgender people. She has never had to wait in line to use the women’s restrooms at Harper, nor has had to think twice about using them.