Queer Student Union is fighting to establish gender-neutral bathrooms around campus.
Ash Yezuita would like to wash her hands in peace.
“I don’t want to think twice about which bathroom I use, so I do use the men’s bathroom,” said Yezuita, a junior women’s studies major. “But sometimes I get so nervous about leaving [the stall] and having a run-in with someone. Yes, I do put myself in that situation. But why is that even a situation? When you want to pee, you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re making a life decision.”
Yezuita, whose birth certificate identifies her as “female,” self-identifies as “genderqueer,” a term that suggests there is no gender binary.
She is one of a handful of students in Queer Student Union spearheading a campaign to install or designate gender-neutral bathrooms in buildings throughout Main Campus. The campaign was in full-force last semester but has recently come to a lull.
Yezuita and fellow QSU Transgender Committee Co-chair Jess Balick said they hope to kick the campaign back into gear, with the campaign petition at the forefront of their efforts.
Last semester, the petition, which circulated via Facebook and QSU’s Web site, templeqsu.com, garnered more than 1,000 signatures. Mirroring Students for Environmental Action’s green fee campaign, Yezuita and Balick hope to collect signatures from at least 10 percent of the student body, or 3,700 signatures.
“[The petition is] still out there, still floating around,” Balick, a sophomore women’s studies major, said. “But there really hasn’t been any progress since last semester.”
Temple is one of a few universities that has yet to jump on board in designating gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Many universities, such as New York University, Ohio University and the University of California-Los Angeles, include gender-neutral bathroom directories on their Web sites.
According to safe2pee.org, the nearest designated gender-neutral public bathroom to campus is in the Abbaye, a bar and restaurant located at the corner of Third Street and Fairmount Avenue in Northern Liberties.
There are a handful of gender-neutral bathrooms on Main Campus, but they are not open for public use.
Previously, there was only one public gender-neutral bathroom, located in Saxbys, but it has since been restricted to use only by paying customers. Balick said the official campaign goal is for one gender-neutral bathroom in every academic building on Main Campus.
“I understand entirely that a lot of the strife in this process is coming from the student budget,” Yezuita said. “But there are students on campus who don’t conform to either gender, as well as trans students who aren’t fully and visibly transitioned yet. Choosing a bathroom can be an extremely uncomfortable decision.”
After speaking with Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Students Betsy Leebron Tutelman, Balick said all he is certain of is what the petition won’t achieve.
“[Tutelman] said administrators won’t approve multi-stall bathrooms, but they could [convert] single stalls [to gender neutral],” Balick said. “She helped us to figure out what our steps were, what was realistic and what we could expect.”
He said the Transgender Committee’s next step is to plan a meeting with Facilities Management to figure out the financial aspects of the project. Newly elected QSU President Nina Melito said she plans to play an active role bringing the Transgender Committee’s goals to fruition.
“There are not a lot of outlets for trans people on campus,” Melito, a freshman biology major, said. “I want to try to get more of them represented through QSU, and I want to help get the petition back up and running.”
Yezuita said it wasn’t a conscious decision to stop pushing the campaign, but it “more or less got put on the back burner.”
This semester, Yezuita worked to establish her brainchild, Purple Circle, as an official student organization. Purple Circle is a nonpolitical organization for queer students and allies that is less about activism and more about socializing.
“Working on Purple Circle was the baby this semester,” Yezuita said. “And when the [Westboro Baptist Church] announced they were coming – when anything like that is announced in the queer community – we all just kind of dropped everything to prepare.”
Yezuita, as president and founder of Purple Circle, assumed WBC counter-protest organizational duties at the last minute. Still, in only an hour, she managed to raise $450 for Attic Youth Center, an organization that creates opportunities for LGBTQ youth to develop into independent, civic-minded adults within a safe community.
Even so, Yezuita said QSU’s and Purple Circle’s other successes should not distract LGBTQ students and allies from the fact that gender-neutral bathrooms are vital implementations that should continue to be pursued.
“It’s so funny ‘cause it’s a weird sort of safe space,” Yezuita said. “Why is bathroom space so sacred? And why do we find that sacredness where we pee? When you have to go to the bathroom, you shouldn’t be forced to put yourself in a, literally, gendered box.”
Maria Zankey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.