When Alec, a freshman psychology and English major, moved to Temple last semester, he was met with an unaccepting female roommate.
Alec, a transgender man, said it was an “uncomfortable” situation. His roommate would be mad when he changed in the bathroom instead of in the room in front of her, he added.
“I didn’t want to come out while sharing a room with a girl, especially considering I knew how she felt about LGBT issues,” he said.
He said gender-inclusive housing would have been better for his mental health. Alec struggled with depression and self-harm as a teenager and he relapsed last semester, partially due to his living situation. He also failed two classes, which he attributes to the breakdown of his mental health.
“It’s generally bad not being able to be yourself,” Alec said. “It’s great that [Temple is offering gender-inclusive housing] because I don’t want anyone to have to feel like I did. You should be able to come out as soon as you can, just because the transition process is easier the sooner you start.”
Students will have access to gender-inclusive housing for the first time in Fall 2017. This new option allows students to live in dorms and share bathrooms with any other student, regardless of sex, gender identity or sexual orientation. Online it is offered in select rooms in Morgan Hall and Temple Towers for upperclassmen and White Hall and 1940 Residence Hall for freshmen.
Morgan McGillian, a genderfluid freshman computer science major and the membership director for the Queer Student Union, is “overwhelmingly happy” about Temple’s new gender-inclusive housing option.
“Finally we’re giving people who have a gender nonconforming identity a place where they can belong that’s not just with whatever their assigned gender was at birth,” McGillian said. “They can finally be with the gender that they are most comfortable with. … I think that’s absolutely amazing and it’s about time.”
Tali Eldering, a junior sociology major, is skeptical about Temple’s motivation for introducing gender-inclusive housing.
“I think it’s a really good idea, but it also seems to me to be like a selling point,” said Eldering, a transgender man. “Temple sort of stays away from having any active participation in trans life, or in general in queer life, so I don’t want to say it’s not a good thing, but it is frustrating when it seems just to be trendy.”
Niki Mendrinos, a senior associate director in Undergraduate Admissions, said while the new option is not a speaking point during campus tours or information sessions for incoming students, Owl Ambassadors are expected to mention it if asked about gender in regards to housing.
Lilly Zimmerman, a senior at Downingtown STEM Academy who committed to Temple with an intended major of cellular and molecular neuroscience, said that while she is not looking to live in gender-inclusive housing, she has “friends going to other schools who wish they had an option like that.”
Her friend Leo is transgender, and he prefers to be around other transgender individuals. This option would allow him to live in a more comfortable space and “have the full college experience without having to worry,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said this housing doesn’t only appeal to transgender students. She said if she met a group of friends who were different genders, but felt that they would “live well together,” she’d take advantage of the gender-inclusive option.
Temple is following in the footsteps of other Pennsylvania universities: Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University already offer gender-inclusive housing.
Henry Sias, a transgender law clerk in the Court of Common Pleas, said gender-inclusive housing at Temple speaks to Philadelphia “being ahead of the curve on inclusiveness and anti-discrimination.”
“I’m glad to see Temple adopting policies that will implement Temple’s anti-discrimination commitments in concrete ways,” Sias said. “Destigmatizing measures make it more possible for trans people to access public spaces, educational opportunities, jobs and all sorts of necessary resources that help us to participate fully in our communities.”
Zimmerman said the new housing option has come at a crucial time, when the rights of transgender people are being questioned in the public sphere with last month’s reversal of federal memos permitting transgender students in public schools to use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identities.
“Especially right now when things are not going great for the LGBT community, it’s so nice to see this victory,” Zimmerman said. “And even though not everywhere is going to be a safe space, Temple is making a safe space for people to be.”
Eldering said while the new housing policy is a good first step, Temple needs to provide more resources for LGBTQ students. He said there isn’t a designated LGBTQ center, he cannot change his name on his student ID and he must email his professors individually each semester to inform them of his proper name and pronouns.
McGillian hopes gender-inclusive housing will be available in all residence halls in the future.
“It sounds like Temple has been listening to students and making decisions about housing with students’ expressed needs in mind, which is democratic and great to see,” Sias said. “Most important is for universities to continue to listen to LGBTQ+ members of their community in order to address their needs. I’m sure Temple will continue to lead in this regard.”
Alexis Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.