09:19 AM

UHCL promotes inclusivity with plan for all-gender restrooms

As college students on campuses across the country advocate for a more inclusive and open learning and living environment, one of the major areas where students demand progress is gender-inclusive restrooms. LGBTQ communities on many campuses have raised concerns about transgender students' rights and are speaking up about harassment or emotional distress transgender or non-binary students experience when using traditional "gendered" restrooms.

University of Houston-Clear Lake has been responsive to this and other issues pertaining to its LGBTQ student population, beginning with expanding options in People Soft, the database that holds all students' identifying information. The university is now moving toward increasing the number of gender-neutral restrooms to allow those outside the gender binary to use the space without discomfort.

"When students have applied and received acceptance into the university, their data goes in People Soft. We have a committee of people who have worked to make a seamless transition for those who are transferring identity, pronouns and chosen name, so that when students log in, they see all that information carried over," said Associate Dean of Students Iliana Melendez. "When faculty pull their information, they will see those markers and know which students identify as transgender, non-binary, or male or female. This occurred when students who were getting their student IDs wanted to use their chosen names instead of their birth names."

Melendez said after multiple such requests were made, they ensured that students were able to make that change on their ID card and add the pronoun of their choice. "It needs to be standard," she said. "It led to a larger conversation about where else we can do this for students. Now that the information is in People Soft, Hunter Residence Hall has it, the Recreation and Wellness Center has it, and so it's all-encompassing. That means that students won't have to explain it all over again every time it comes up."

Melendez said that last year, all University of Houston System institutions were given $45 million for deferred maintenance and renovations.

"Although the university is still evaluating all its specific priorities for those funds, bathroom renovations are a critical need for UH-Clear Lake's campus, both for accessibility, gender neutral spaces, and update of those facilities," said Vice President of Administration and Finance Mark Denney.

With support from Denney and UH-Clear Lake Interim President Richard Walker, an all-gender restroom renovation proposal was approved remains a priority on the project list.

Denney said that the renovation was a priority, but due to the pandemic and other factors, many priority initiatives were forced into delay. "This funding has come without the normal years of planning that is part of the normal major construction cycle, and UHCL has been experiencing turnover in certain key positions, including the associate vice president for Facilities and Construction Management," he said. "That position has recently been filled, and will facilitate forward movement."

Melendez said the proposal ensures that at all the buildings on this campus have at least one single-stall, all-gender restroom. "Multi-stall restrooms require more construction, and we hope we'll have restrooms temporarily set up on each floor in Bayou to help make sure that while the permanent restrooms are being built, the students have restrooms available," she said.

She added that the proposal also allowed for the placement of trash bins in all stalls in the all-gender restrooms, and that a plan for installing dispensary machines for free menstrual hygiene products was in the works.

Student Government President J Scates said that there were many sides to a discussion about restrooms and gender. "We're all used to not talking about these kinds of things, but we have to," they said. "A few years ago, I was at an event and heard students talking about restrooms and access here at UHCL. I am in the LGBTQ community, and I was getting started with Student Government. I had heard a student talk about getting harassed in both restrooms. They didn't know there were single-occupancy restrooms on campus, but they identified as male and didn't know what to do."

Scates said that they'd heard about a single-occupancy restroom in the Student Services and Classroom Building, but every time they attempted to use it, it was locked. "That led me to have conversations with Iliana about restrooms and I wanted to find out about UHCL's policy," they said. "I wanted to know where the university stood on this. If someone's gender on their driver's license is different from how they appear, what happens, and why don't we have more options?"

Single-occupancy restrooms on campus that are currently called "family restrooms" will remain as they are and simply get a new sign that says "all gender."

However, Scates said this proposal was not about turning restrooms into spaces just for trans students. "All gender means everyone. The university has a non-discrimination policy. How does that apply to non-binary restrooms?" they said. "This proposal is about creating fully accessible restrooms with ADA-compliant stalls, so there are multiple factors here. Anyone feeling discomfort can use the traditional binary restrooms or single-occupancy restrooms that aren't going to change."

Simply using a restroom, they continued, should not be a problem. "People think that someone not comfortable using a binary restroom should just use a single-occupancy restroom, but if that's the case, they should be accessible and there should be more than just one in a building," they said. "Currently in Bayou, there are just two single-occupancy restrooms on the second and third floor of the Neumann Library. A lot of people don't even know they're there, and they're very hard to access."

Scates said gender and sex are on spectrums, and although some people expected that to be clearly male or female, that simply isn't the case for most LGBTQ individuals. "Going to the restroom should not be a big thing," they said. "Everyone in the university falls somewhere on the spectrum."

UHCL is committed to cultivating and affirming a diverse university environment. The Office of Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a resource for student programming and support. For more information about SDEI, go online.