Simple changes could make UT facilities gender-inclusive

Ashley Choi

In 2012, my family and I were on a campus tour at UT-Austin accompanying my brother, a prospective student. By the end of the tour, my brother had to use the bathroom, only to realize that there was no gender-inclusive bathroom in the UT Tower that he felt comfortable and safe in. Eventually, my family and I had to walk for 15 to 20 minutes to find a gender-inclusive bathroom available on campus. 

As a family member of a prospective transgender student, I quickly became concerned with the lack of accommodation, consideration and inclusion for my brother and those who, like my brother, did not feel comfortable and safe in binary restrooms. The disappointment and exhaustion that my brother felt led to a series of doubts and discouragement from applying to the University of Texas at Austin. As University-Wide Representative and a concerned student, I would like to not only preempt this from discouraging transgender and gender non-conforming prospective students from applying to this institution, but also ensure that safety and inclusion be guaranteed and implemented for current students, faculty and staff. 

On-campus LGBTQ advocacy has been a high priority for many, such as Queer Students Alliance and Queer People of Color and Allies, with one common set of goals: creating a safer and more LGBTQ-friendly place for UT students, faculty and staff. However, too many students still face discrimination and fear violence while carrying out their daily tasks, such as using the binary bathroom. Too often, they go through hurdles of bureaucracy, including “confirming” their gender identity, in order to be placed in an on-campus dorm they feel comfortable and safe in. We can enhance the experience of LGBTQ students and expand recruitment and retention in two-fold; first, by implementing a university-wide orientation on LGBTQ issues, and second, by creating a gender-inclusive campus. The latter involves using preferred names and gender pronouns on University records and creating gender-inclusive bathrooms and spaces, a process that can be feasible with a stronger push from the student body.

Presented in the Student Government General Assembly meeting on Sept. 6, AR 6: Incorporating Gender Inclusive Bathrooms in All Preexisting Buildings and AR 7: Gender Inclusive Sign Changes for All Single-use Bathrooms on Campus are crucial steps to readdressing an urgent matter facing many. No one should have to leave the building they are in simply because they need to use a bathroom they feel most comfortable and safe in.

Not only is it more cost-efficient to build gender-inclusive bathrooms than to build binary bathrooms, but UT Standard Template of Owner Requirements also requires every building to include gender-inclusive bathrooms. Incorporating gender-inclusive bathrooms in all preexisting buildings at UT-Austin can easily become a reality by simply changing the signs on single-use bathrooms from the currently transphobic and non-inclusive terms of “unisex” and “gender-neutral.”

It has been 10 years since QSA published a report entitled, “The State of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.” However, the compelling lack of compliance with UT STOR and incorporation of gender-inclusive bathrooms in buildings — which QSA labeled an urgent issue in the 2006 Student Affairs Report — should be a firm reminder to all that inclusion is yet to be fully implemented here at UT-Austin. We as the student body should hold every UT department accountable for its compliance with UT STOR and advocate accountability and safety for our students, faculty and staff. 

Choi is an international relations and global studies senior from San Antonio. She is a University Wide Representative in Student Government.