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Saturday, December 20, 2014

QSA pushing for unisex restrooms

Dean of students supports initiative

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

A one-stall bathroom sits at the north end of Zimmerman Hall. Queer Straight Alliance is pushing for an initiative that will increase the number of universal restrooms on campus.

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Queer-Straight Alliance Advocacy Chair Johny Golightly said that universal restrooms on campus are a basic student right.

“When we’re using the bathroom, we’re really vulnerable,” he said. “We should all be free to pee. We should have this safe space where we could relieve ourselves. It’s a fundamental right for everybody to be free of harassment when choosing to do something as personal as that.”

QSA is pushing for an initiative that will increase the number of universal restrooms on campus, he said. Golightly, a student who identifies as gay, said the initiative would not limit benefits toward members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“It’s a worthwhile cause because it’s not just an LGBT issue,” he said. “It’s a universal issue. It benefits nursing mothers. It benefits students who are differently bodied. We’re advocating for the vulnerable populations on campus to create this safe universal spaces.”

Golightly said his organization has started working on the initiative this semester.

At the moment, QSA plans to create dialogue about the issue through meetings, Golightly said. He said his organization is working with ASUNM, the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Dean of Students Office for the initiative.

UNM Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre said universal restrooms are “one-stall restrooms that would not be gender specific.” He said the initiative also affects him personally.

“Last week for UNM’s 125th birthday, my two-year-old daughter was on campus,” he said. “I am not comfortable taking her into a big bathroom facility for men. I would much rather have a one-stall bathroom that I would have to go to with a child.”

ASUNM has repeatedly passed resolutions addressing universal restrooms in the past, Aguirre said.

The undergraduate student government passed a resolution in March 2012 that supported “the development of Universal, Gender-Neutral, & Family (GNF) restrooms on the UNM campus in an effort to be more accommodating and accessible to students, faculty and staff.”

The ASUNM Senate previously passed similar resolutions in 2010 and 2013 supporting the development of universal bathrooms in the SUB, according to the Daily Lobo. None of these were able to effect concrete action.

Aguirre said it’s his job to change that.

“As the dean of students, I just want to make sure that it’s more than just a statement,” he said. “I want to really see if the University can really respond and do something about it.”

Aguirre said his office has been meeting with ASUNM and QSA about the initiative for the last two weeks. He said that at the moment, the organizations aim to convert existing one-stall bathrooms on campus into universal spaces, which is a simple task.

“All you have to do is take the sign off that says male or female and just put universal on it,” he said. “Then anybody could use it… To a certain degree, it’s no different than a porta-potty. No one has issues at concerts or festivals. Can you imagine if you went to Balloon Fiesta, and there were so many restrooms that are just for women and so many just for men?”

Some University facilities, such as Student Health and Counseling, have already made their one-stall restrooms universal, Aguirre said. He said that every new building at UNM, in the future, should have universal restrooms.

“If a student has to travel half a mile to use the restroom on campus, can you imagine what an uproar that would be?” he said. “We’re just trying to create some equity here. These are things the University stands for.”

Golightly said the number of universal restrooms on campus should be proportional to the growing population of UNM.

“I believe that for every binary restroom option that we have on campus, we should at least include one universal bathroom,” he said. “If we have a room with stalls allocated for males and females, we should have at least one bathroom that can accommodate every visitor in our campus.”

Golightly said that at the moment, his organization has not encountered any opposition about the initiative. He said he is optimistic that the number of universal of universal bathrooms on campus would increase by the fall semester.

“We have students on campus who don’t identify with the binary gender codes that we have right now in terms of bathroom options,” he said. “With talking to different students who are part of the queer community, or whatever community they fall under, universal bathrooms can benefit them all.”