Gender-neutral bathroom on hold as students press for inclusiveness

By Dylan You and Cinthia Velez-Regalado - Staff Reporter

Highline's first specific gender-neutral bathroom is being planned as another step toward presenting the college as an open-minded, easygoing and progressive environment, a student leader says.

Student Government Speaker of the Caucuses Byron Patten, said the bathroom is planned for the third floor of the Student Union.

Patten said that a consequence of not having a gender-neutral bathroom would be that some people may feel forced to conform to an identity that they're not comfortable with.

Patten said he believes a goal of the student government is to find ways to make every student comfortable without hurting others in the process.

"We don't want to force someone to choose something," Patten said. "We believe that everyone should be comfortable in their environment, and you can't go wrong with a gender-neutral bathroom."

He said that the gender-neutral bathroom has not been proposed for the sole benefit of non-binary students.

"It's not just about transgender students," he said. "It's also about gender issues because it addresses the fear of people who think that gender-neutral bathrooms will result in sexual harassment."

"Europe has a lot of gender neutral-bathrooms and nobody cares," Patten said.

Patten also said that having a gender-neutral bathroom is a way to debunk alleged connections between sexual predators and gender-neutral bathrooms.

"People who are attacked in gender-neutral bathrooms aren't attacked because of the gender-neutral bathrooms or the gender of the attacker. People are attacked because the attackers are genuinely bad people and students have to understand those types of people will always exist," Patten said.

He said he wants to let the students know that "you can't fear someone being in the same space as you just because of their gender; having a gender-neutral bathroom doesn't give someone the power to attack someone else."

Patten said he believes that the gender-neutral bathroom will leave a positive impact on both the students and the image of the school.

"LGBTQIA issues are pretty controversial and hot topic right now," Patten said. "It's all over the news all the time," Patten said. "I think it'll impact the students by making them really active and aware of the current issues and political state."

Patten said that the student government wants to help students form their opinions and hopefully start a discussion regarding the LGBTQIA community and predator anxiety.

"We at Highline want to show that we are on the side that we believe will be more supportive to all types of students," he said.

"It's just one step for the LGBTQIA community and I think there will be many more steps done by the student government to help all groups who are oppressed," Patten said.

Whatever the students decide, it will be the responsibility of Director of Facilities Barry Holdorf to execute the plan.

He said the gender-neutral bathroom will be different from the several unisex bathrooms already on campus because it will combine both men's and women's facilities into one bathroom available for use by multiple genders at one time.

"The unisex restrooms allow gender-neutrality to happen, but they aren't specifically gender inclusive," Holdorf said.

As the first specific gender-neutral bathroom on campus, lots of time and consideration is being put into its design in order to insure maximum comfort and gender neutrality.

"It's not under construction but it's still under planning," Patten said. "I hope it'll be built by the Fall Quarter of 2017, but we're not sure if it'll happen later or sooner."

The uncertainty comes in part because student government leaders disagreed with the design of a previous proposal that simply consisted of constructing two doors leading to two separate bathrooms.

"After reviewing the design, we didn't feel that it gave the sense of equality," Patten said. "What the previous architect wanted was essentially a men's and women's bathroom but with gender-neutral signs over them."

"We wanted one bathroom with one door in order to let people know that we don't care who uses it. We don't want students stuck on deciding which door to go in," Patten said.

The student leaders also opted for more private toilet stalls in contrast to the previous design.

"In the old design they shortened the doors, but we didn't like that," Patten said.

The old design had partitions with big gaps under and between the stalls where one could see the people using the toilets. But the student leaders wanted longer and wider walls so that students could feel more secure.

"They [architects] wanted partitions, but the student government wanted dry wall [and] doors," Holdorf said. "So it was really just a matter of the operational and traditional standpoint of bath rooms vs the student government's vision."

Holdorf said the construction of the bathroom will be paid with money from students' tuition fees.

The original budget was $78,000, but because the original design was rejected, a new design may cost more than $100,000, Holdorf said.

The student government will have to convince students to pay for the new bathroom if they adopt a new design.

"It's a project. From a college facilities perspective, [the plans are] still a little new and raw. Their vision needs to be vetted. We'll build what the students want as long the college approves it, we can build it and it's safe to build," Holdorf said.

The assistant director for the Center of Leadership and Service, Iesha Valencia, is spearheading the project. She's currently visiting places that already have gender-neutral bathrooms.

"[We're] revisiting with Student Government, revisiting with the architect, and revisit the cite of original inspiration Green River [Community College]," said Valencia. Student Government will be taken on a quick day trip to Green River Community College.

"We're moving forward with the design," said Valencia.

"We want to support student initiatives," Holdorf said. "We'll execute whatever based on criteria risk management, operational capabilities, executive team buy-offs, and the students' approval."

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