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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

UH System

UH-D student government passes bill promoting gender-neutral restrooms


Staged illustration: Transgender students may now be able to escape the harassment they may face in binary restrooms through UH-Downtown's new bill to open gender-neutral bathrooms.

Staged illustration: Transgender students may now be able to escape the harassment they may face in binary restrooms through UH-Downtown’s new bill to open gender-neutral bathrooms.

The UH-Downtown Student Government Association unanimously passed a new legislation Friday, providing gender-neutral and family restrooms for students. UH-D SGA Vice President Kristopher Sharp introduced the bill after hearing firsthand accounts from transgender students who have faced discrimination at male and female restrooms, many of whom he knew from the LBGTQ community center Safe Zone, which he heads.

“Inclusion is the cornerstone of everything that we do,” Sharp said. “I think we are a university that has historically served minority populations, and we need to be able to move beyond just race. Gender minorities are in many ways excluded from higher education and the academia simply because they don’t have proper accommodations.”

As a member of the LGBTQ community, Sharp has faced struggles of his own. While campaigning last year for the vice presidency with running mate Isaac Valdez, the current UH-D SGA president, he was attacked for his sexual orientation. Both Sharp and Valdez ran on a platform of inclusiveness.

“We are inherently a diverse university, and it’s great, but just because you are naturally a diverse university doesn’t mean that you do a lot to affirm that diversity and let people know that ‘you’re a welcome part.’”

The problem of harassment and confrontation endured by transgender individuals seemed to be so well-known in gender minority communities that the phenomenon was referred to as “The Restroom Problem” in the SGA resolution. The senate resolution called for action to create gender-neutral restrooms to provide relief for these students, who also pay tuition.

“One should have the opportunity to meet their basic needs, such as using the restroom, without fear of reprimand, discrimination or adversity. For transgender and gender-nonconforming students, gender-segregated restrooms can be spaces where they are met with intimidation, harassment, run-ins with security and/or violence,” according to senate resolution #SR2014JAN10.

Pro-temp UH-D Student Body Chief of Staff Thomas Williams hopes to see the university take swift action to bring the resolution to life by the end of the semester. But Williams doesn’t want it to stop there; he believes safe restrooms for gender minorities should be on the city’s roundtable, too.

“I would like to see this concept taken throughout not only the UH System, but spark this discussion throughout the entire Houston community and making sure that we are treating all people equally,” Williams said. “Our ability to pass this unanimously shows that this next generation doesn’t see people who identify differently as any different; they’re people that should be treated just the same as anybody else.”

Though UH-D is currently working on gender-neutral restrooms, UH’s main campus has already been on the ball. SGA President Cedric Bandoh was glad to see the restrooms added during the construction of the New University Center alongside those already in service across campus.

“At UH, all of our new buildings have (gender-neutral restrooms), so I don’t see it as an issue here,” Bandoh said. “I’m happy that’s happening in the downtown campus, and it’s already happening here.”

UH-D SGA hopes to have six gender-neutral restrooms in the campus’s three buildings. It will meet with university officials to determine the specifics and a timeline for the project.

There are more than 14 gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms across the main campus. A map and other resources can be found at the LGBT Resource Center in the University Center North, room N201.

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