Unisex Bathrooms at Eastern Michigan University

Mary Larkin enters the ladies bathroom and sometimes encounters the moments when other women take a second glance at her because they may have thought she was a boy. Family restrooms, which are one stall bathrooms in which you can go inside and lock the door, exist in many public places such as hospitals, libraries, and shops. These types of restrooms are important if someone in Mary’s case wants to avoid these encounters and simply go to the bathroom.

Although in schools it would be impossible to replace public bathrooms with family restrooms, because of the demand for a toilet, the need for these bathrooms to be just as prevalent as public restrooms need not be ignored. There are other groups besides families being represented with family bathrooms. Handicap, gender non identifying, and varying cultures are all people who utilize them.

Muslims need to use a foot bath every day before their prayers, so to accommodate this need campuses such as Eastern Michigan University and University of Michigan have installed them, or are making the initiative to do so. While UofM is installing two, EMU only has one installed and it’s in a family restroom. Having these one-stall facilities give the opportunity for campuses to install more footbaths in the future.

Non gender binary students also need a place to go to the bathroom if they don’t feel comfortable going into the one that fits their gender.

“In a men’s bathroom we hear people talk about the issue of safety if someone transgender goes in.” Mary Larkin, program coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center said, “In a woman’s bathroom we hear about situations of discomfort, which is just as important. People just want to pee, and you can’t.”

Larkin said from personal experience of being someone who doesn’t look gender  conforming, there are moments of awkwardness when she walks into the women’s bathroom. If there are people who are affected by the reactions of their presence in a bathroom, they have the option to go into the family restroom to avoid these encounters if one stall bathrooms are available.

According to Peer Victimization, Social Support, and Psychosocial Adjustment of Sexual Minority Adolescents by Trish Williams, Jennifer Connolly, Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig “Adolescents who are questioning their sexual orientation, or who self-identify as gay male, lesbian, or bisexual, in a predominantly heterosexual context, may be perceived as different, providing the basis for harassment and victimization within the peer milieu.”

By providing family restrooms, someone who is transgender, or self-identifies as gay, etc, is able to avoid any possible harassment.

EMU campus has 16 locations of family restrooms. There are some in residence halls, academic buildings, and even one on each floor of the Student Center. The map on the school’s website easily showcases all of the locations so that they can be found. The need for these bathrooms seem well represented.

“It seems like we(EMU) have a lot of unisex bathrooms,” Averett Robey, LGBTRC advocacy coordinator said, “but if you look at the amount of multi gender stalls we have in comparison to the single stall gender neutral bathrooms we have, the disparity is really huge.”

The location needs to be looked at as well as the quantity of gender neutral bathrooms.

According to Robey, “We don’t have gender neutral bathrooms where the bulk of our students are.”

Pray Harrold, for example, is the largest academic building on campus, holding the most students at any given time, yet there is not a family/gender neutral bathroom on any of the six floors. Even when the building was reconstructed four years ago, there was no initiative to put in those types of bathrooms.

The lack of unisex bathrooms in the largest academic building on campus is not on the university’s behalf, but the state’s. According to Robey and Larkin, the state will deny money being used towards gender neutral bathrooms, but has no official reasons as to why.

With there being no gender neutral bathrooms in Pray Harrold, those who would like to use them are out of luck if they have back to back classes, with no time in between to travel to a different building. This not only applies to students in this building, but those in other campus buildings lacking one stall bathrooms. While the majority of students have the ability to easily go to the bathroom whenever and essentially wherever they want, it’s hard for those whose sexuality is a minority (as well as those who are handicapped, or with their family) to do the same.

According to Student Government’s EMU page “Minority populations are disproportionately affected by the lack of family restrooms, including those of religions faith, transgendered individuals, differently-abled, students with children, and the elderly.”

The map of gender neutral bathrooms on the EMU website certainly does help to navigate to them. Without the map it would be even more difficult than it already is to find a bathroom.

“It’s like a secret society of bathroom knowledge,” Robey claims.

There is one particular gender neutral bathroom on campus that is in the basement of Strong, which, according to Robey, most students don’t even know has more than one level. On top of that, the door isn’t even marked as a bathroom, or as anything at all. Other bathrooms are just as inconspicuous, with their locations being in offices or random crevices in buildings that not everyone accesses because the students or faculty have no reason to.

Those whose sexuality is the minority not only have a hard time, but Muslims as well. As mentioned earlier there is a footbath in one of the gender neutral bathrooms. This is located on the third floor of the Student Center; just as gender nonconformists in Pray Harrold would have to leave the building to go to the bathroom, Muslims have to leave every building they’re in, besides the Student Center in order to do their daily prayer.

It is indeed pricey to put footbaths in every gender neutral restroom, with UofM estimating it at 12.5 million dollars, just as well as it’s nearly impossible to install gender neutral bathrooms in buildings where they don’t exist. Because of this, the movement is not about currently installing a gender neutral bathroom in every building and on every floor, but to do so when at all possible, such as when Pray Harrold was being reconstructed.

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