American University will increase the number of gender inclusive restrooms on campus and will up the number of signs indicating where they are located, according to a university official.
The university had previously referred to the facilities as family or unisex restrooms,in the wake of a 2006 Washington, D.C. law.
Sara Bendoraitis, 37, the Director of Programming, Outreach, and Advocacy at American University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion said that 2006 law was the main factor prompting the change in how restrooms were labelled on campus.
“People have the right to use the bathroom that best fits their identity,” Bendoraitis said.
Under that act’s Gender Identity and Expression clause, all public facilities are lawfully required to provide adequate accommodations for individuals who would feel uncomfortable or unsafe using restrooms that are gender segregated. In addition, single-stall restrooms must have gender neutral signs.
Of gender neutral bathrooms on campus, Bendoraitis said they “are not new on campus, and they actually exist in all aspects of our daily lives.”
Although laws protecting gender neutral spaces have been on the books in the district for a decade, the issue gained widespread prominence after North Carolina legislators voted in March to strip transgender individuals of their right to use a public facility of the gender they identify as.
Laura Neumayer, a 19-year-old junior studying in the School of International Service, and Julia Baldwin, 24, studying nutrition, both agreed that American’s decision to classify several restrooms as gender neutral was not surprising.
“AU is notably liberal and progressive, and the student body is very inclusive,” said Neumayer, who worked on a laptop outside the Dav cafe. “They have always tried to be this way, so the gender neutral restrooms have been on campus for a while.”
Some voiced opposition, saying they did not see the necessity of changing the signage on campus.
Carl LeVan, 45, is an associate professor of political science. He believes the university made a courageous decision by updating its signage, but he was unclear as to why labeling restrooms as unisex was inadequate.
Bendoraitis said that although the function of the facilities themselves has not changed, new labels of gender neutral are essential in order for AU to meet the needs of those who may not be comfortable using the traditional single sex restrooms.
“It is not about the comfort of everybody else,” Bendoraitis said. “It’s about the comfort of that person, and making sure they have access to the facilities that they would like to use.”