In light of Penn’s recently amended housing policy that will allow first-year students starting with the Class of 2016 to request gender-neutral housing, the Lambda Alliance and Undergraduate Assembly have gained another victory in the fight to improve gender non-specificity on campus.
This time, the target is Penn’s public restrooms.
The University has approved an increase in the number of single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms that will be available around campus.
About 80 public single-use restrooms on campus will be converted to gender-neutral bathrooms, according to Engineering and Wharton senior and UA President Tyler Ernst, who, along with Lambda, has been lobbying for gender-neutral restrooms over the past few years.
“The UA, along with the Provost’s Office and the LGBT Center, collaborated to determine the most appropriate restrooms to identify as gender-neutral,” Facilities and Real Estate Services spokesperson Jennifer Rizzi wrote in an email.
FRES will soon be releasing a map that identifies the location of all gender-neutral restrooms on campus, she added.
Currently on campus, most restrooms — even those designated as single use — are labeled either male or female. Because of this, several different phases will be needed to change all signs on the doors to single-use restrooms, according to Office of the Vice Provost for University Life.
By the end of the semester, though, some of the old signs will be removed and temporary ones will be put in place, Rizzi wrote.
“Having the single-use restrooms uniformly labeled and on an online … map will help the LGBTQ community, especially those who are transgender, by allowing them to feel safe while using the restroom,” LGBT Center Associate Director Erin Cross wrote in an email. “This also is the case for anybody who is even slightly gender variant, even if they are not a member of the LGBTQ community.”
College sophomore and Lambda Alliance Chair Hugh Hamilton agreed, adding that the LGBT community at Penn has been very supportive of the efforts to increase ease of access to public restrooms.
“Gender-neutral restrooms are an important component of a transgender-friendly environment, not to mention the number of non-transgender and even non-LGBT individuals who feel more comfortable using a non-gendered bathroom,” he said.
The gender-neutral bathrooms project began as a Lambda Alliance initiative three years ago, and was adopted as a UA project two years ago.
Over the past year, the Office of the University Architect, FRES and VPUL became formally involved. According to Cross, the Office of the Executive Vice President, FRES and VPUL will be contributing the $35,000 needed for the project.
“Several other colleges and universities have pushed for more single-use restrooms on campus,” Cross wrote, “but as far as we know we are the first to work with partners across the university to ensure both non-gendered signage and widespread access to an online way finder map of them.”
“We worked very collaboratively here at Penn on creating our own signage since we did not find any existing standard signage for gender-neutral restrooms at other institutions,” Rizzi added.
Hamilton anticipates that the project will have a positive impact for Penn’s queer community.
“The completion of this project is a testament to our ongoing commitment to serve the less visible parts of our community,” he said.
College senior Sam Bieler, a UA representative and project co-sponsor, agreed.
“Penn is really unique in this area compared to peer institutions and I can’t think of a comparable program at another school as large as Penn,” said Bieler, a former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist. “Projects like this keep us on the forefront of gender issues and distinguish Penn as a truly open institution.”
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