Students discuss transgender issues

For most students, choosing which bathroom to use is effortless. Illustrations or words on the door make it clear if a student should use the “Men’s” or “Women’s” room. These binary gender classifications, however, create problems for transgender students. Transgender people are those whose biological sex is not aligned with the gender they identify as. Transgender individuals often present themselves as their gender rather than their sex. In doing so, they face danger in choosing a bathroom: They are forced to either use a bathroom contrasting with their identity and perceived gender or to risk being harassed or stigmatized for using a bathroom of the wrong sex.

Last Wednesday, the Transgender Study Group, along with the Rainbow Alliance, the University of Pittsburgh’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, and Allied (GLBTQA) organization, showed Toilet Training, a documentary intended to raise awareness about transgender restroom choice problems.

The documentary discussed a vast array of issues faced by transgender individuals in using public restrooms, as well as relating the issue to topics such as race, employment discrimination, health concerns, and worries specific to students. The film included interviews from several transgender individuals who spoke about their troubles in finding unisex bathrooms or other safe, comfortable bathrooms to use. Additionally, the documentary illustrated cases of gender non-conforming individuals being harassed and arrested in bathrooms, which happens frequently even when an individual’s presence in the bathroom is entirely legal.

Anti-discrimination laws protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity in only four states, Pennsylvania not included. There are, however, anti-discrimination laws in Pittsburgh that protect the choice of transgender individuals to use the restroom in which they feel most comfortable, offering legal (but not social) protection. As evident in both the documentary and subsequent discussion, discrimination still occurs despite these laws.

“An employer has an obligation to provide a comfortable, safe, harassment-free workplace for everybody, including the [transgender] person in the workforce,” said Hugh McGough, a labor employment attorney present at the documentary screening and discussion.
The screening was followed by a discussion, part of which invited attendees to relate their personal accounts of problems in restrooms. The discussion focused on finding a solution that would allow transgender and cisgender (or non-transgender) individuals alike to feel safe and comfortable in restrooms.

Attendees discussed topics such as why bathrooms are gender-specific in the first place, in addition to the installation of more unisex bathrooms. The discussion also included debate about sexual assault and the possible implications of unisex bathrooms.

“Cisgender women and trans women both experience oppression that is rooted in sexism — they need to work together to address the real threats to women’s safety, which doesn’t come from [transgender] people,” said Noah Lewis, organizer and facilitator of this event in addition to weekly Transgender Study Group meetings.

“First, they need to educate everyone on campus not to harass people or question their right to be in a particular bathroom. Second, there need to be gender-neutral bathrooms located in every building,” Lewis said.

Tyler Moss, president of ALLIES, Carnegie Mellon’s GLBTQA organization, agreed. “You really do need more unisex bathrooms in academic buildings,” Moss said.

Carnegie Mellon currently has approximately 15 unisex bathrooms on campus in various locations, including two in the University Center.

Bathroom use is just one of many issues that transgender students face, and according to Moss, ALLIES is helping to address transgender students’ needs.

Advocates for the transgender population hope that the future will include comfortable bathrooms for all individuals.

“It’s the responsibility of everyone to advocate for equal access to bathrooms, not just [transgender] people,” Lewis said.