On Sunday March 26, I sat down with Cash Huynh ‘18 and Maddy Smith ‘20 to talk about their latest action on campus. Huynh, a Women and Gender Studies and AVC double major, is primarily responsible for mobilizing this action and pushing for more conversations on degendering restrooms on campus. Smith is intending to be an Environmental Science major and assisted Cash in this action by doing photography and taking on general coordination.
Two weeks ago, on Sunday March 12, Huynh and Smith, along with a group of ten students, dedicated their time to post signs that said “Toilet: This Bathroom is for Individuals of Any Gender” over gender designation signs in every bathroom in every academic building. In the stalls, they also posted flyers that included what the action is about as well as contact information.
When asked what inspired them to start this action on campus, Huynh replied, “Initially what really pushed me to put together this action was because as somebody who doesn’t identify as either woman or male, there are no facilities on campus that really allow me to express my gender in a way that makes me feel comfortable. So I had to socialize myself as either a man or a woman to really accommodate the comfort of the school. And what really solidified my push for this was after Trump’s administration on revoking some of the guaranteed protections under Title IX for transgendered youth, and trying to see if there was any way for us to juxtapose what is happening on campus to what’s happening nationally, to show our solidarity and support for trans youth through the nation.”
The Title IX amendment has been a source of national debate as of late. It was included in a number of amendments signed into law in 1972, by President Reagan, called the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX was intended to prohibit any form of sexual discrimination in educational facilities that receive federal funding. The Obama Administration extended Title IX in order to prohibit any form of discrimination based on gender-identity in educational programs and sports. In 2017, the US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and the Trump administration issued a new set of guidelines that rescind these Obama-era protections. In effect, they leave it up to the states to decide whether or not to allow transgender or non-binary students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. In places such as North Carolina, Texas, New Hampshire and Colorado, state legislatures have considered requiring transgender and non-binary students to use facilities corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
The Trump Administration’s new set of guidelines is dangerous for a number of reasons. For one, the LGBTQ community has proven to have higher suicide rates than any other marginalized group. In fact, nearly half of transgender people attempt suicide during their lives. Now more than ever, we need to show support for trans and non-binary people, in order for them to feel included and safe. Creating gender-neutral bathrooms, something that most take for granted, is a huge step in the right direction.
“It’s also kind of interesting like in Carnegie specifically, looking at which restrooms are gendered and which ones aren’t,” said Smith, “Because they’re all single person restrooms. And on the second floor upwards, actually the restrooms just say ‘restroom’, they don’t have a gendered sign on them. But on the first floor there are two single-stall restrooms, and there’s a men’s and a women’s…It seems a little bit pointless that a bathroom that is for a single person, for privacy would not be an issue, would end up being a gendered bathroom.”
So where did the signs and flyers go? According to Huynh, “It wasn’t the Institution’s decision to really tear the signs down, I think the facility services were just doing their job. So like I understand why they would remove the signs, but the flyers, which was our reinforcement for that follow up, for people to catch on what we were doing…those were also removed. And I was really surprised because a lot of clubs and organizations advertise events, meetings, what-have-you in the stalls, like those were not removed, but our signs were. So I don’t really know why that was the case. But for the most part administration is very open to listening to us.”
Smith added, “the non binary signs went down pretty fast. But they were up long enough to definitely spark conversation between people. Which was a large part of why we did this action, so I would say it was still very effective.” What Huynh started here on Bates Campus will be circulated nationally through the help of Breakthrough USA, a nonprofit based in New York that works to stop gender based violence. Huynh is a fellow with this organization, and while they were doing this action, Breakthrough USA came to campus with a film crew and filmed. They will be putting a video out within the next few weeks. Smith believes that, “as that video gets spread, more campuses will be able to do what Cash started here.”
Huynh felt that their action was well received at Bates: “I remember, the day after the action, a couple of ‘bro-dudes’ — I call them bro-dudes— very hyper-masculine, like football, sporty dudes were talking about it. And they were just like ‘Oh how do you feel about degendering restrooms on campus’ and they said oh well, I don’t really care where you pee, but showers and locker rooms was a concern of theirs and I was like yeah that’s something that’s pretty tricky to navigate around but I don’t think it’s impossible. But it was good to see people whom I’m not familiar with, talk about issues like this, because everyone should be talking about this.”
In order to continue Bates College’s dedication towards equality, it is crucial that we continue conversations on gender-identity, with topics including degendering bathrooms. If we stop talking about it, we risk the danger of many people becoming marginalized and feeling excluded from the public discourse.