Here and nationwide, bathrooms that aren’t his or hers

Should bathrooms be intimidating? Rather, the question is, are they not already so, with the prominent mention of “Men” and “Women” to welcome assumed people who identify with the declared genders? The good news is New York University is taking notes. Rachel Smith reports on

Gallatin junior Daan Erikson said the words on the Kimmel Center’s bathroom doors can be intimidating: “men” and “women.”

“They’re gigantic,” said Erikson, who identifies as transgender. “Having gender-neutral bathrooms alleviates the stress some students may feel about the label of ‘men’ or ‘women’ put upon them simply by entering a door.”

The issues surrounding gender-neutral bathrooms, bathrooms that don’t have gender-specific labels, are gaining prominence on campuses nationwide. The signs have led to debate about who can go where and how labels can shape the use of public space.

NYU addressed the issue three years ago when the University Senate passed a resolution to include gender-neutral bathrooms in all new and renovated buildings. Other prominent universities have taken similar steps and added gender-neutral facilities, including the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, the University of California at Los Angeles and Cornell University, according to

Todd Smith, director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Services, said he appreciates NYU’s progressive efforts.

“It’s a nice resolution,” he said. He also said that although the efforts are “seeking to be inclusive,” this resolution is not a policy. It only requests and encourages NYU to include gender-neutral spaces in new building projects, Smith said.

Since the senate resolution was passed at NYU, buildings including the Kimmel Center, the Palladium dorm and the Wasserman Center for Career Development have been equipped with at least one gender-neutral restroom. In Palladium Athletic Facility, a gender-neutral changing and locker room is available for students who have an alternative gender identity, including transgender students. Before the resolution was devised, the Gallatin School of Individualized Study replaced the gender-specific signs on their bathroom doors with gender-neutral signs. The Gallatin building at 715 Broadway is now being renovated, but will still have gender-neutral bathrooms when it is up and running again, Erikson said.

The new 12th Street dorm, currently NYU’s largest construction project, will have gender-neutral facilities as well.

Although most bathrooms in the dorms will be in suites, “those [bathrooms] serving the public areas will also be gender-neutral,” university spokesman John Beckman said.

Some students said they did not understand why the university’s bathrooms are not already gender-neutral.

“I don’t see why we need to have gender-specified bathrooms,” said CAS freshman Damon Beres. “It’s just a bunch of stalls, I don’t see why anyone gives a shit.”

CAS junior Tamaria del Rio was also in favor of the resolution, on the grounds that gender-specified bathrooms are discriminatory.

“I think that’s a good idea. I mean, there’s no reason not to,” she said. “You don’t want to segregate anyone.”

The university explored the concept further on Saturday when it cohosted a conference with the American Institute of Architects called “Outing the Water Closet: Sex, Gender, and the Public Toilet.” The event brought together gender specialists, architects and academics in order to “consider, critique and reconstruct the public restroom,” according to the event’s organizers.

The public restroom scandal involving Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was discussed, as was an incident at Mexican restaurant chain Caliente Cab that brought citywide attention to the concept of gender-neutrality over the summer. Khadijah Farmer was kicked out of a woman’s bathroom at the chain’s Sixth Avenue location after an employee mistook her for a man. Farmer filed suit against the restaurant last month, according to The New York Times.

Gender specialists also spoke about gender-specific signs on restroom doors, while architects and urban planners spoke about the practical and physical sides of building more progressive restrooms.

The question-and-answer session at Saturday’s panel suggested that strong opinions lie on both sides of the issue.

One audience member said that gender-labeled bathrooms cause “urinary segregation.”

“I’m sure other women have noticed that when there is a long line for the women’s room and you go into the men’s bathroom, they’re literally the exact same layout,” she said. “The labels on the doors are just another reinforcement of our society’s gender segregation.”

Clara Greed, a panel member and a professor who specializes in “inclusive urban planning” at the University of the West of England, said making decisions in terms of gender segregation is difficult.

“According to our research, what pleases one person upsets another, so you always have to work out a compromise, a political compromise,” Greed said.

But that compromise might be hard to reach, panelists said.

“You’ll never accommodate everybody in every space,” said Matthew Sapolin, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

Erikson said that there is no reason for bathrooms to cause “unnecessary anxiety.”

“All one should be concerned with when going into the bathroom is going to the bathroom, not worrying about making a statement about what their gender is,” he said.

Rachel Smith is a staff writer. E-mail her at [email protected].