On Friday, UNT officially began making its students' daily bodily activities a little less uncomfortable, with the opening of several gender-neutral restrooms on campus. The move comes as part of the yearlong push by the university to combat campus discrimination. The school has committed $100,000 toward building gender-neutral restrooms. Restrooms already exist in dormitories, but will now expand to public buildings.
"UNT being a state school, this is all an initiative driven by the student body in the last five years," says Oliver Blumer, who is on the board of directors for the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
He says gender-neutral restrooms are typically "one-seaters," and usually quite discreet. "Oftentimes it won't say gender-neutral, but it will have the universal sign of man and woman. Oftentimes it will be portrayed as a family restroom, or a changing room."
The university is the latest in a slew of Texas schools announcing their support -- financial and otherwise -- for the construction of campus-wide gender-neutral restrooms. Southern Methodist University has made strides combatting LGBTQ discrimination in the last two years, which includes the installation of campus-wide gender-neutral restrooms, after being repeatedly ranked on a nationwide list of most homophobic schools.
Blumer says gender-neutral restrooms are a crucial component in improving university treatment toward the LGBTQ community. "The problem is a kid who is transgender, they want to have the privilege of using the restroom they choose for who they are," he says.
"How one needs to use a particular restroom based on their gender identity, it's no one's business. The idea is not someone wanting special treatment. They just want to go to the restroom."
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And it's a concept the University of North Texas is willing to spend over $100,000 to embrace. Not only do single-use, gender-neutral restrooms make life easier for transgender students, they also afford privacy to those students who don't wish to use public restrooms.
"The trend is certain taking off, and it's a good thing. This is not just for people that are gender nonconforming. It can be for people that just don't feel comfortable with anybody walking in," says Blumer. "It really is good for everyone, it's not just for transgender people. In fact there are multiple reasons for people wanting to have a private bathroom. But it has the gender neutral sign out front, a family sign, or even a wheelchair accessible sign."
While school districts in Texas have yet to catch up with public universities -- an important issue to keep in mind, says Blumer, as younger transgender individuals are often more susceptible to bullying and social discrimination -- the widespread installation of these in educational settings is a positive first step.
"If you just put 'restroom' on the door, and it's a one-seater, then this is a not an issue," he says. "This is a very positive trend, and it's good to see all kinds of information getting out there."