By: Isaiah Bell ’16, University Health Center, SHARE Peer Educator
What is Bathroom Justice?
Not all bathrooms are created equal. Many individuals are limited by the gender binary and/or the physical structure of restrooms which can make it really hard to just go to the bathroom! This includes trans* folks, people with disabilities, families with children and nursing mothers. Bathroom Justice tackles these social issues by bringing awareness about the accessibility of bathrooms for all populations, to ensure that everyone is Free 2 Pee in peace without harassment, physical and social barriers, or having to search the entire campus for a safe and accessible space to pee!
Why do I care about it?
Let me start by saying that I identify as a cisgender, non-disabled male, with no children or lived experiences pertaining to this particular issue. I became aware of this intersectional injustice through my work as a sexual health peer educator and a senior community health major with a passion for occupational therapy and disability rights. Once I became aware that so many people were impacted by these issues, I felt compelled to learn more and get involved in how I can support everyone’s fundamental right to safe and accessible restroom spaces.
What is the big deal?
Members of the trans* community and LGB folks can sometimes experience harassment or violence for using a restroom when others deem that they don’t “belong.” This can make the very simple task of trying to pee a stressful and/or traumatizing experience. Many bathrooms have at least one stall where people can use the bathroom in private. So what is the big deal? If we break down this ineffective gender binary that says “men only” and “women only,” we can allow people to choose the most appropriate bathroom for them. This helps people to feel more safe, comfortable and human! With so many gendered restrooms on campus, I am in favor of more accessible gender-neutral or single-stall options where anyone, including families or people with disabilities, can pee in peace!
So what do families have to do with it?
Many people are unaware of the struggles families face with utilizing a public bathroom. Some parents have a hard time finding family restrooms or spaces where privacy is needed in order to feed or diaper change their child. This is further complicated for parents whose children are a different gender from themselves. Where does a father take his daughter to use the restroom when there are only two options: MEN and WOMEN? Do they send a small child in the bathroom alone and cross their fingers that they are OK in there? Do they try out the urinal in the men’s room? What do you do when the only family restroom is across campus or in a different building and your child has to “go” right now? What about people who are nursing and need to feed young infants? Check out this funny video about breastfeeding in public. This is something that I hadn’t thought a lot about, but I am learning so much more!
What is UMD doing about it?
UMD has acknowledged that this is an issue. Campus partners have worked to identify gender-neutral restrooms and lactation or nursing rooms on campus. UMD also has a “building amenities” feature on its campus maps which can help you locate “lactation/feeding rooms,” “family restrooms,” and “gender inclusive restrooms.” You can get involved by using #BathroomJustice, contacting The President’s Commission on Disability Issues, checking out the LGBT Equity Center, or completing your very own Bathroom Audit on campus!
I hope that this blog post has raised your awareness to Bathroom Justice issues. In addition to checking out the campus resources listed above, a quick google search will show you different apps and tumblr pages that people have started to address the various layers of Bathroom Justice! Next time you use a restroom, take a mental note of the following (or use the Bathroom Audit to help us survey campus):
- How wide is the door to the bathroom? (Americans with Disabilities Act recommends a 32 inch door)
- Does the stall door close by itself or have a door handle on the inside to pull it closed? Can you lock it from the inside?
- Is the bathroom marked for men, women, unisex, or gender-neutral?
- If someone were experiencing harassment or violence in this space, is it in a location where they could easily get help? (i.e., not in an isolated spot)
- Does the bathroom have a changing table?
While this is not an exhaustive list of questions, it helps us become more aware of everyday logistics that folks with marginalized identities navigate on a regular basis when trying to do one of the most simple and natural things that humans do, pee.