Safe Zone and Triangle Alliance members ignited conversations about discrimination against transgender people and the use of public restrooms due to a campus incident in March, which uncovered the lack of awareness and knowledge about transgender people on campus.
The incident involved a male EvCC student entering the woman’s shower and restroom in the Fitness Center between March 13 and 15.
On March 15 the student was arrested and later charged with voyeurism for viewing, photographing and filming at least five individuals without their consent.
On the day of his arrest, the student entered the woman’s restroom wearing a long-haired wig and a stuffed bra, portraying himself as a woman. The student has since been suspended.
Safe Zone, a program that strives to erase homophobia and heterosexism, raised a question from this experience. While his behavior was criminal and nobody disputes this, there was concern that a transgender person – a person who is biologically one gender, but identifies as another – using the bathroom is going to raise the same suspicion.
Allison Cohen, Director of Healthcare Pathways Center and a Safe Zone member, explained that suspicion should result from a person’s behavior, not the way they look or how they dress.
“I think we need to broaden what our norm is around gender identity, so [if] you see someone who doesn’t conform to your idea of what your gender should express, then there’s awareness that there’s actually a broader definition,” Cohen said.
As of 2006, Washington State Law for Freedom of Discrimination (RCW 49.60) specifically states transgender people are legally allowed to use the “public wash rooms” they gender identify with. Otherwise meaning, that a man who identifies himself as a woman, has the right to use a women’s restroom.
Washington is one of 16 states with this law. There are also 143 city and county laws addressing the same situation nationwide. Washington D.C. also has a similar law.
Many people are unaware of this law, including Triangle Alliance members. Triangle Alliance is a club for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer) students and allies.
“I feel like I’m a man, but I have to use the woman’s bathroom because that’s what people see me as,” said Kat Stillwell, EvCC student and a member of Triangle Alliance.
Lindsay Krill, vice president of the club, explained she’s worried about how the voyeurism incident has affected people who trans-identify, despite what the law says.
She’s concerned students and faculty will assume transgender people using the restroom have the same negative intentions based on how they look, especially “if they don’t look enough like a woman to be passing”.
“It’s happened before, so women will be more frightened,” Krill said.
Safe Zone members continue to discuss ways to create an environment that is welcoming to all students. In fact, Cohen said people have showed more interest in the committee since the incident.
Safe Zone plans to create a sub-committee that will focus on evaluating where the one-stall restrooms are located on campus, which can also be considered gender-neutral restrooms.
The committee will also look into the possible need to create more of these restrooms and have also discussed the possibility of establishing a gender-neutral shower area in the Fitness Center.
There are currently two gender-neutral restrooms in Whitehorse Hall, one in the Fitness Center and one in Parks Student Union.
Others like Stillwell would like to see signs posted in front of the restrooms explaining transgender people are welcome, because of the lack of knowledge within the community.
It’s important for Cohen not to just look at the restroom situation, but also look at the broader issue of how transgender people feel on campus. This overall issue has Safe Zone members considering advocating to have “gender identity” in the college’s non-discrimination statement.
“Another subcommittee is going to be looking at the college’s non-discrimination statement to see if that truly encompasses everything [the] Safe Zone committee would like to see,” said Jennifer Rhodes, director of student activities.
While all 34 of Washington’s community and technical colleges have a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, only eight colleges explicitly state gender identity and expression within their policy.
An additional five schools include a reference to the Washington State Law for Freedom of Discrimination (RCW 49.60), but do not write out gender identity within the policy.
Rebekka Brucker, president of Triangle Alliance, said unlike gay rights, transgender rights are often not pushed for by the club or the LGBTQ community. It’s something many club members call the “silent T-syndrome”.
Restrooms are often seen as being one of the only segregated areas in our country, but as the “T” on LGBTQ becomes louder that may not be the case.
While in her English class, Brucker’s instructor was discussing pronouns. “My instructor mentioned pronouns like he and she, but many people don’t know about gender neutral pronouns,” she said.
For instance, Stillwell does not like to be described with words like “he” or “she,” but with gender neutral pronouns like “hir” or “zie”.
Brucker is planning to have the club create pamphlets about gender expression and a chart of gender-neutral pronouns that can be passed out to initiate a dialogue.
“Stereotypes keep a climate of ignorance and intolerance,” Brucker said.
As of now, there is no specific policy regarding the use of restrooms and transgender people, but Christina Castorena, dean of student development and diversity advocacy, expects one may be created as a result of these conversations.
Castorena tells students to notify a staff member if a male is in the woman’s restroom/shower, or vice versa.
“Let that staff member explore and it may be a conversation with that person, and then determine what’s appropriate,” she said.
She also encourages those that are male or female, but identify as the other gender to talk with her or other Safe Zone committee members.
“We want to support them and be able to find a way for them to have access to a facility or a shower, so we’ll work something out,” said Castorena.
Any policy changes or other solutions are to be discussed further and presented by Safe Zone in June.