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AU’s removal of gender-neutral bathrooms sparks anger among transgender, nonbinary students

Nine new single-stall, all-gender bathrooms are estimated to be fully constructed by July 2023

American University changed some all-gender restrooms on campus to gendered restrooms to prepare for a renovation project, to the dismay of transgender and nonbinary students.

AU will construct nine new single-stall, all-gender, ADA-accessible restrooms on campus by July 2023, Chief Financial Officer, Vice President and Treasurer Bronté Burleigh-Jones wrote in an Aug. 15 email to the AU community.

The email said University leaders, the facilities team and key stakeholders met over the summer to discuss AU’s restroom inventory. The University currently has more than 130 all-gender bathrooms on campus, both single-stall and multi-stall, which University leaders concluded “do not currently provide a consistent level of privacy,” according to the email from Burleigh-Jones. The University will begin renovations this academic year.

“We know this change will have an impact on our LGBTQIA community, specifically our transgender and non-binary communities,” Burleigh-Jones wrote in the email. “We are working to put interim solutions in place during the project and will be convening a working group of campus stakeholders including the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and others to lessen the impact and minimize disruption.”

There are 125 single-stall, all-gender restrooms available on campus, Assistant Vice President for Community and Internal Communication Elizabeth Deal said in an email to The Eagle. There “There are 120 gender neutral bathrooms available on campus. Our measures include a list of all gender neutral restrooms and identifying signage," Deal wrote. 

Manny Siskind, a nonbinary sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, said the rollout of the new bathroom changes was not effective.

“They really just did not do a good job of informing people of which [bathrooms] have changed,” Siskind said. “I know there’s a directory of gender-neutral bathrooms on the AU website, and it’s not fully updated, which I feel like they should have done.”

The construction team will build new restrooms and modify existing restrooms in specific locations. The facilities team changed 14 all-gender restrooms to single-sex restrooms in Batelle-Tompkins, the Child Development Center, Hughes Hall, Leonard Hall, Letts Hall, Mary Graydon Center, McDowell Hall and the Osborn Building. These changes were made to meet D.C. building code requirements, which call for a minimum number of gender-specific bathroom facilities in each building, according to Deal.

Charlie Everett, a 2019 graduate and the former president of AU Pride, was involved in a committee that met regularly to make campus restrooms gender-inclusive. They said they have been following updates on the restroom policy on social media, namely the AU Pride Instagram.

“I felt it was a step back and was disrespectful to the work that so many students, faculty and staff [have] been doing to try to make the campus a more inclusive place,” Everett said of the removal of some gender-neutral bathrooms.

University leaders and the facilities team have begun identifying potential locations in each building for a single-stall bathroom. Their next step is to consult an architect for further design work before beginning the construction process.

The construction of nine new bathrooms will provide these locations with permanent single-stall, all-gender restrooms. 

In the meantime, transgender and nonbinary students have fewer public restrooms available to them compared to last semester, raising concerns among those who do not identify as cisgender.

Nicole Donelan, a junior in SPA, is a peer health educator with the Center for Well-Being Programs and Psychological Services. Donelan, who identifies as nonbinary, said they took matters into their own hands when the only gender-neutral bathroom near the Hughes Hall office was turned into a men’s room. 

“All of [the peer health educators] are either women or nonbinary, so we just said, ‘Who cares?’ and started using it,” Donelan said. “We’re supposed to be an LGBT-affirming space, but how can we be an LGBT-affirming space if we don’t even have gender-neutral bathrooms?”

Donelan said they put a “gender-neutral” sticker on the outside of the men’s bathroom in Hughes, which is now being used by students of all genders.

In addition to the frustration over the lack of designated all-gender bathrooms, Donelan said they want clarity on the administration’s decision.

“I just want to see more communication and an explanation because I don’t understand why we’re taking out so many existing gender-neutral bathrooms to create nine new ones because of the D.C. building code at all,” Donelan said.

Deal said that the University is meeting the district's building code requirements on the minimum number of gender-specific bathroom facilities that must be in each building.

Donelan said they wished the University would recognize transgender and nonbinary community members and the need for all-gender restrooms.

“We’re on campus,” Donelan said. “We’re students. We’re faculty or professors, and we need a f*****g place to pee.” 

Correction: The headline of this story has been updated to reflect that the nine bathrooms being constructed will be new bathrooms, the caption has been updated to reflect that more restrooms are being built to comply with D.C. building code and more context has been added surrounding the University's interim measures for gender-neutral bathrooms as well as what the district's building code requirements are when it comes to numbers of gender-specific bathrooms.

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