by Perrin Williams and Eden Getachew
A Georgia State study recently proved that denying transgender individuals the access to bathrooms of their identified gender might be more than just an inconvenience.
According to the study by social research professor Kristi Seelman, the lack of access to gender-neutral restrooms and housing options could affect students emotionally and physically. The study states that transgender and cis-gender students’ lack of access to these resources correlate to higher stress levels and suicide rates.
Seelman said that according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), 51 percent of transgender students harassed in high school considered suicide. Those rates were higher for students bullied and sexually and physically assaulted by teachers.
On Feb. 22 the Trump administration announced their withdrawal from the Obama administration’s protections for transgender students in public schools. Since then, civil and advocate groups have denounced it and viewed it as a politically motivated attack that would endanger transgender students.
The President’s new guidance places an emphasis on permitting states and school districts to determine the rules themselves in regards to restroom policies for transgender students. But that often boils down to more than whether a school system or institution is willing to create those bathrooms.
In the case of Georgia State, it’s often a money problem.
In the fall semester of 2016 Student Government Association (SGA) Sen. Leonardo Rodriguez drafted up a piece of legislation to expand the number of gender-inclusive restrooms on campus to address the issue, but now said he no longer has plans to do so.
He said the administration’s building plans provide for those bathrooms, and no other initiative is needed.
“When we met with facilities and other offices and departments about [gender-neutral bathrooms] being included in their plan, they stated that with every new building the university builds or plans to have built, there will be at least one gender neutral restroom in those buildings,” Rodriguez said. “So as of right now there’s no need to write a resolution or a bill because the university already plans to do that.”
But according to Director Facilities Design & Construction Services Design & Construction Kim Bauer, each new building the university builds will include one uni-sex restroom only if budget allows the department to do so.
“It’s usually when we have a contractor on board and when we have a price from them. We do it when we can because it also helps with ADA [American Disability Act] issues. It also helps if there is a family that comes with a small child, so we try establishing them when we can,” Bauer said. “But there’s no available budget to go through all the old builds to carve out space for uni-sex restrooms on campus.”
The Office of Opportunity Development-AA/EEO Training and Compliance completed an audit earlier in the fall to assess whether gender-inclusive restroom locations were feasible and fair.
Dean of Students, Dr. Darryl Holloman said the list of useable gender-inclusive restrooms on campus was reduced from 18 to 13.
“The list was taken down to 13 because some of the restrooms weren’t accessible. Some restrooms required a code, or they were tucked away in the basement. And so this was just an approach by the university to see if the list that was originally published was accurate of the restrooms or facilities that could be used,” Holloman said.
The previous audit had photos of where the gender-neutral restrooms were located on the multicultural center integrated map to show specifically where they were, and the updated audit will include photos as well.
“Our model is on student success and diversity and so we want to ensure we include spaces that are diverse and inclusive,” he said.
Georgia State also offers the option of gender inclusive housing (GIH), which is available to transgender and cis students. There is designated housing for GIH, but residency is on a first come, first serve basis.
Seelman said that while GIH is a great option, there should be more than one rooming option for transgender and cisgendered students.
“It’s great to have this option,” Seelman said. “But they should also have options for singles, where students can live in dorms by themselves.”
Sociology professor Maura Ryan said this allows students to be in a safer environment that doesn’t segregate based on assigned sex at birth, but believes Georgia State could do more to accommodate transgender students.
“They should provide gender-neutral restrooms in all buildings. In terms of housing and classroom accommodations, they should hold town hall forums with trans students to hear exactly what this population needs from their own mouths,” Ryan said.
So while the resources may be there for these students, Seelman agreed that transgender students should be made more aware of these resources.
“Having clear information about resources available to transgender students is very important,” she said.
Ryan also said she believes that a professor’s refusal to acknowledge the pronouns of trans students has effects on their learning environment.
“People have a block against seeing this behavior as harassment for transgender students, yet it’s even worse when professors mis-pronoun or otherwise misgender their trans students because those actions are just one part of a general harassment those trans students are experiencing,” Ryan said.
Ryan said that professors who do not acknowledge their proper pronouns set an example that teaches students that it is acceptable to ostracize and harass their fellow transgender students.
“It’s not an isolated incident, but a microaggression that gives license to other students to ostracize and harass that student. Misgendering creates a hostile environment where a student cannot learn,” Ryan said.