UMass bathroom policy to provide comfort, safety for transgender and non-gender conforming students

By Anthony Rentsch

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Prince Hall in the Southwest Residential Area is equipped with two gender-inclusive bathrooms with showers. Other buildings on campus also have gender-inclusive bathrooms without showers. (Collegian File Photo)

Prince Hall in the Southwest Residential Area is equipped with two gender-inclusive bathrooms with showers. Other buildings on campus also have gender-inclusive bathrooms without showers. (Collegian File Photo)

A University of Massachusetts policy instituted last semester aims to enable transgender and non-gender conforming students to use bathrooms they feel safest and most comfortable using.

The policy states that, “students, staff, faculty, and campus guests should use the bathroom facilities that correspond to their sex or gender identity, or utilize bathrooms that are designated gender-neutral or gender-inclusive.”

The change was accepted by the Campus Leadership Council last fall and went into effect at the beginning of the spring semester, according to University spokesperson Patrick Callahan.

“The policy was approved because it’s another way to protect our students,” Callahan said, adding that the new policy brings University policy into alignment with Title IX regulations.

Although the policy was implemented at the beginning of the spring semester, it was not widely publicized because, according to Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center, the University does not publish new policies online until the beginning of a new fiscal year.

Beemyn said, while there was no written policy before, the unofficial policy was that students should use the bathroom that corresponded with their biological sex.

The University has included gender identity under its nondiscrimination policy since 2009, although Beemyn said protecting gender identity alone was not a sufficiently nuanced approach.

As of last year, Title IX added transgender students to its list of protected students. In the spring of 2014, Beemyn said that Residential Life instituted a similar bathroom policy to the one the University adopted in the fall.

According to the Stonewall Center’s website, there are 37 known gender-inclusive bathroom locations in campus academic buildings. Most residential buildings also have gender-inclusive bathrooms, without showers, located on the first floor. Prince Hall, in Southwest, is equipped with two gender-inclusive bathrooms with showers.

The center’s website states that Massachusetts plumbing codes require specific numbers of bathrooms per men and women, which limits the University’s ability to convert gender-specific bathrooms into gender-inclusive ones on campus. Beemyn said there is a statewide push to reinterpret the codes so that single-user bathrooms are not required to be gender-specific.

All renovations and additions to the campus since 2010 are required to have “a single-user accessible bathroom facility that is gender inclusive,” according to the center’s website.

Moving forward, Beemyn said there is a need to create more gender-inclusive bathrooms, especially for students who do not identify as male or female. At the same time, he acknowledged that it is not practical to make a large number of these typically single-user bathrooms. Instead, he stressed that it is important to treat transgender students as they see themselves and to not question their choice of  gendered bathroom.

While the center’s website says UMass is one of the only universities to have a formal policy concerning the rights of bathroom usage for transgender people, local colleges have similar options. Hampshire College, Smith College and Amherst College all have gender-inclusive or gender-neutral bathroom options, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Signs for communal bathrooms at Hampshire also use non-binary reliant phrases “with urinals” and “without urinals,” the Gazette said.

At least 11 businesses located in Amherst and Northampton offer gender-inclusive bathroom facilities according to the Stonewall Center’s website.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.