Jae Michael Bartley, a second-year student at the University of Florida, doesn’t identify as a man or a woman, but as trans masculine. For people like Barley who identify as transgender, the thought of using a public bathroom can be terrifying.
“I was just scared, and I felt that I would be like violated or something, and I didn’t know how to stand up and pee and stuff,” he said. “I thought I would have to learn all of those things. It was a really terrifying experience.”
But UF is working to alleviate these concerns. A recent initiative by UF to create a secure setting for anyone using a bathroom, regardless of gender identity, brings more than just a sigh of relief for the trans community on campus.
“I feel like it creates security and safety for people who just aren’t comfortable,” Bartley said. “It’s acceptance, and it’s also a step towards breaking down the binary and heteronormativity. Lessening fears of other people.”
Signs have begun popping up around UF’s campus specifying that single bathrooms around the university are open to all genders. Right now, restrooms in the Cypress and Springs complexes are marked as gender neutral, but the project is looking to expand across campus.
“At this time we’ve identified over thirty bathrooms that can be designated all gender, and staff is in the process of making sure the locks work on the doors,” said Sharon Blansett, assistant to the associate vice president for student affairs at UF. “Some were just pull-open; we want to make sure they can be locked and be private.”
The initiative began with the student government. SG officials worked with the Pride Student Union, LGBT Affairs, and Trans at UF groups to bring the issue to administration.
Damian Gonzales is the co-president of UF’s Pride Student Union. He said it was all about creating safe places for transgender students to use the bathroom.
“It’s not just a matter of them being able to have a place to go use the facilities,” Gonzales said. “It’s also a place for them to have safety, which a lot of times they don’t have.”
Gonzales said the student groups were inspired by other universities within the state that have been creating all-gender bathrooms, like the University of South Florida, which has more than 50 gender-neutral bathrooms, more than any other state university.
“We’ve gotten very positive feedback,” Blansett said. “It’s an initiative where students have come up with an idea to make this a more welcoming campus for everyone.”
“There won’t be any more, ‘Oh, I’m going to the bathroom, and maybe someone will look at me badly,’”said Maximillian Pionzio, a UF graduate student. “You know it makes the whole situation just kind of fizzle, and might make it a little bit nicer.”
For Bartley, it shows that the university is creating a culture that embraces all genders.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I see UF becoming a more progressive place.”