Student group ‘Green Tape’ secures gender-neutral bathroom victory

State representatives came out in support of inclusive bathroom designation

Daily+Collegian+%282015%29

Daily Collegian (2015)

By Ariana Gonzalez, Translations Editor

Webster Hall is a first-year residence hall located in the Orchard Hill residential area at the University of Massachusetts. The second floor of the building is a gender-inclusive residential community while the third floor usually hosts the overflow of students who were not able to get onto the second floor.

At the start of the 2022 academic year there were two gender-neutral bathrooms in Webster Hall and a population of 40 gender-queer students on the second floor alone.

Kairo Serna, a freshman linguistics and Spanish student, decided to tackle the situation by starting a movement to include more gender-neutral bathrooms in the hall.

“A lot of buildings just don’t have gender-neutral bathrooms,” Serna said.

To address the issue, Serna used a small household item in order to change the restroom’s signs: green tape. Serna covered the signage so that it read “restrooms” instead of “women’s” or “men’s” restrooms.

“Our friend decided that’s our symbol,” Serna said about the name of the group, Green Tape.

The day after the group had put up the tape, the cleaning staff took it down, according to Serna. The next day, students put the tape back up. This process repeated multiple times until the group decided to reach out to others to aid in their cause.

Students are prohibited from putting up green tape to deem bathrooms gender-neutral due to plumbing regulations in the building.

According to the plumbing code, there is a minimum number of toilets for each residential building that is specific to the amount of single-stall and multi-stall bathrooms For multi-stalled bathrooms, the code requires them to be identified for either female or male users if the bathroom has more than one shower or toilet.

The group created a plan to reach out to the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters in order to make an exemption to the plumbing code to allow non-gendered bathrooms in the building.

To gather support for their request, the group contacted local Democratic Party leader Halley Kelly, Webster Hall Residence Director Presia Kegler, Assistant Director of Residential Life Kirsten Dedrick, Director of the Stonewall Center Genny Beemyn and other members of UMass faculty to present their request for additional gender-neutral bathrooms.

In addition, the group gathered student testimonies regarding how the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms was affecting them. The process of creating a variance in order to assign gender-neutral bathrooms in UMass’ residential buildings is not a new process according to Kelly, who has worked with the Green Tape group since it started.

“The University was filing for variances for single-stalled bathrooms seven years ago,” Kelly said.

For example, the spectrum floor of Baker Hall, was able to file for a variance to obtain multi-stall gender-neutral bathrooms.

Before filing for a variance, Green Tape gathered letters of support from State Rep. Mindy Domb and State Sen. Jo Comerford. They were ready to go up to the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters to declare their need for the gender-neutral bathrooms.

However, on Oct. 4, the day before the Plumbing Board meeting, the University sent an email to the group explaining that the multi-stalled bathrooms would now be declared gender-neutral on the second floor of the building.

The change was attributed to the precedent from Baker Hall’s variance for the Spectrum floor and the fact that male bathrooms did not have urinals to begin with.

The Green Tape group plans on continuing their efforts toward more gender-inclusivity through gender-neutral bathrooms by creating a state-wide initiative.

“We are still planning to not only take this to the state level by trying to change the building code to make it more inclusive, but we also want to push for actual variances for other buildings as well for the Dec. 7 [Plumbing Board] meeting, ” Serna said.

In an attempt to bring state attention to the issue, the group went to a meet-and-greet event on Oct. 13 with Attorney General Maura Healey to talk about their work to create more gender-neutral bathrooms in the school.

“I think it’s really important,” Healey said about the work that the Green Tape group did in Webster Hall. “I look forward to talking with them more about what they’re doing.” Healey said.

The Green Tape group now has representatives in the Bathroom and Restroom Working Group of the University and are planning to seek further initiatives for gender-neutral bathrooms in Baker Hall in the Central residential area, which currently houses more students of the Spectrum community.

Ariana Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]