Gender-neutral students seek clarity on safe spaces at Edinboro University

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Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021 at 6:52 PM
Gender-neutral students seek clarity on safe spaces at Edinboro University by Alexander Beatty
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In a world where gender is becoming increasingly freely expressed in a wide variety, the need for gender-neutral bathrooms rises. More and more students are expressing their identities, and it’s time for their schools to help them feel safer. The youth needs a solid foundation to thrive and learn. 

Essentially, the word “transgender” is often used as an umbrella term for non-cis-gendered people — people who don’t identify as their assigned birth sex.  

While Edinboro University does a fantastic job of placing gender-neutral bathrooms around campus, it lacks in informing students about these safe spaces available to them. “I didn’t even know there were gender-neutral bathrooms on campus," a freshman English and game design major notes when asked about their thoughts on the situation. 

Most students only have only seen the one on the bottom floor of the Frank G. Pogue Student Center (located across from the fitness center). Other locations include one in the basement of Compton Hall, a few in Ghering Health & Wellness Center, two in Hendricks Hall, and a few others. 

For the complete list of bathrooms on-campus, visit the university's official website detailing buildings with gender-inclusive restrooms. 

Angela Burrows, Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Edinboro University, comments, “Individuals need not, however, use the gender-inclusive restrooms unless it is their preference. Individuals may use any restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.” 

While many students find these bathrooms a safe haven, there always seem to be those who view them as unnecessary and a disruption to their own lives. Comments like “why not just use the men’s/women’s room?” or “you call yourself a man so act like one,” are not uncommon, yet they provide all the more reason why we need gender-neutral bathrooms.  

Passing transgender people — transgendered individuals who visibly pass as their preferred gender — can use the bathroom of their preference, but what about the trans people that don’t pass or don’t identify as a certain gender? Those who identify as nonbinary and genderfluid don’t have that liberty. Of course, they can use a gendered bathroom, but it’s more validating to use a bathroom meant for them. Gendered bathrooms also put transgender students at a risk of being screamed at, ridiculed, or even beaten. While that may sound like an extreme, there are still dangers to identifying as transgender in today’s world despite many people being more accepting than they have been in past generations. 

There have been countless laws in the United States pinning down transgender people in an attempt to limit —  and occasionally void — their rights. Several of these laws question whether transgender people should use a bathroom based off their birth sex or their current gender identity, like Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. This North Carolina statute, also known as House Bill 2 (HB2), states that an individual must use a restroom based off the sex marker on their birth certificate when in government buildings, including schools. 

It’s a constant back and forth battle of first creating discriminatory laws and then developing laws that cancel out the previous laws. Boycotts and lawsuits create tension for lawmakers to create positive change.  

Another, more dangerous legal strategy is that of the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense. Essentially, according to the LGBTQ+ Bar — an organization dedicated to banning discriminatory laws — this defense is allowed “[to claim] that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains — but excuses — a loss of self-control and the subsequent assault.” According to the same organization, Pennsylvania is unfortunately still on the list of states that allows perpetrators to claim the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense. 

Our society can be cruel to those they deem “different” from themselves, but a community, like a university, is capable of providing enough kindness to make some of that cruelty hurt a little less. 

Using a restroom is a basic human necessity — something that has to be done multiple times a day. Not using the restroom can cause pain, internal damage and mental distress. Focusing on studies should be a student’s top priority, not worrying about using a bathroom.  

Writer’s note: If you can’t find a gender-neutral neutral bathroom, find one that is empty or bring a friend. Just stay safe in any way possible. A bathroom is often a vulnerable place, especially with your safety at risk and especially as a minority. You’re not alone — many people are standing in your shoes and feeling the same way. 

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