UA Community reacts to planned gender-neutral bathrooms

By Alex Gladden

Razorback Reporter

The bathroom door was white and included a symbol for both a man and a woman on its face. The door simply read “RESTROOM.” It opened into a single-room bathroom that had one toilet and one sink. White tiles surrounded by dark gray grout lined the floor, and a bare lightbulb lit the Phillips 66 bathroom that Brody Parrishcraig, a fourth-year Master’s of Fine Arts student, used to drive to rather than use an on-campus bathroom. Going into a men’s bathroom made him feel unsafe.
Parrishcraig, a fourth-year Master’s of Fine Arts student, did not openly identify as a man until he began graduate school at the UofA. In his undergraduate years, he attended Hollins University, a women’s-only university in Virginia. He grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist home where he was not allowed to explore his gender identity.
UA officials are making strides to try to help transgender students become more comfortable at the university.
Facilities Management officials are renovating the bathrooms on the second floor of the Arkansas Union to become gender-neutral, said Jay Huneycutt, the Facilities Management director of Planning and Design. They expect the bathrooms to be completed by the end of October.
The Athletics and University Housing departments also plan to follow Facilities Management’s lead and design their bathroom plans after the union design, he said.
Athletics officials will renovate their bathrooms using a holistic approach, meaning they will add gender-neutral bathrooms in Razorback Stadium, Bud Walton Arena and other sporting centers, Huneycutt said.
These renovations should not matter to straight people, junior Madi Arnold said.
Arnold is a gay student who attends the Counseling and Psychological Services-supported LGBTQ Connections Group.
“It doesn’t affect straight people,” Arnold said. “It affects people in my community.”
Parrishcraig said he still sometimes feels unsafe using bathrooms on campus.
“Violence against transgender people is a reality,” Parrishcraig said.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs generated a report in 2013 about violence against transgender people. Seventy-two percent of hate violence homicides were against transgender women. Transgender people were also seven times more likely to experience police violence, according to the report.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t just think of transgender people as human beings,” Parrishcraig said.
Patrick Briney, the associate pastor and collegiate director at Mission Boulevard Baptist Church, also agrees that no one should feel uncomfortable or unsafe in bathrooms, he said.
Briney approves of the way the UofA is installing gender-neutral bathrooms, he said.
Each UA bathroom will include at least one urinal and one stall. The main bathroom entrance will allow people to lock the door behind them, Huneycutt said.
Briney would not agree with UA officials adding in gender-neutral bathrooms if they encouraged men to enter women’s bathrooms because he thinks it would open up women and children to sexual assault, he said.
“Women and children are the primary prey in society,” Briney said.
Parrishcraig does not think transgender people should be required to use a gender-neutral bathroom, he said. He advocates that transgender people should be able to enter the bathroom of their choice.
UA College Republicans have assumed the Arkansas Federation of College Republicans’ stance on gender-neutral bathrooms, President Sydney Combs said. The chapter is upholding the idea that gender-neutral bathrooms are not necessary or a valid use of taxpayer money.
Department officials plan to add at least one gender-neutral bathroom to all academic buildings and are in the planning stages of creating gender-neutral bathrooms in the Graduate Education Building and the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center.
These two buildings will be completed within the next few months, Huneycutt said. Before construction begins on either the Graduate Education Building or the HPER, officials will have to create architecture drawings, give estimates for how much the projects will cost and wait for money to become available to create the bathrooms.
The bathrooms will be labeled with signs that will read “Restroom,” Huneycutt said.
UA officials are showing a lot of support for transgender students, Parrishcraig said.
“It shows they actually are committed to diversity and to transgender students in a way that carries weight,” Parrishcraig said.
When students are not comfortable at their university, they are reluctant to seek help from professors or administrators, he said.
The UofA has a policy, first implemented in August 2014, that prohibits discrimination based on any characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law, including sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation, according to the Non-Discrimination Policy on the UA website.
Gender-neutral bathrooms have previously been an area of dispute city-wide.
Fayetteville residents passed the Uniform Civil Rights Protection Ordinance on Sept. 8, 2015.
The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It was passed after Fayetteville residents repealed the original statute, Ordinance 119 on Dec. 9, 2014. One of the problems community members had with the original ordinance stemmed from its support of transgender people using the bathroom of their choice, according to an article published in The Arkansas Traveler on Dec. 10, 2014.
Gender-neutral bathrooms also proved to be an issue for the public school system when they gained local attention during the Bentonville School Board election.
Two board positions were up for re-election, including Grant Lightle’s former position. He ran against Beth Haney and Eric White.
White was elected to the position Sept. 20 after a contentious race against Lightle.
Lightle advocated to establish an anti-discrimination employment policy in the Bentonville School District that would protect people based on gender identity, sexual orientation, marriage, veteran status and genetic info, he said.
The school board voted to reject the policy last fall, said Travis Riggs, the Bentonville School Board president.
Lightle continued to campaign for his policy throughout this election cycle. Lightle said White was against his policy and equated it with gender-neutral bathrooms, an issue that neither Lightle nor the school district has addressed.
The Bentonville School District evaluates gender-neutral bathroom problems on a case-by-case basis, and Riggs does not expect to install gender-neutral bathrooms in the near future, Riggs said.
Gender-neutral bathrooms offer nonbinary people, who do not identify with a specific gender, a bathroom option, Parrishcraig said.
Parrishcraig thinks gender-neutral bathrooms can also help transgender people who are not ready to choose a bathroom associated with a particular gender, he said.
He recognizes that all LGTBQ people have backgrounds that are unique.
“We all have very different stories,” Parrishcraig said.
Parrishcraig does not want any people who are trying to figure out who they are to doubt themselves because they do not fit into a particular narrative.
Arnold said she has been able to appreciate different people’s stories when she attends the LGBTQ Connections Group.
While Arnold’s family has not been supportive of her lifestyle choices, she has been able to observe a spectrum of familial relationships through people she has met in the group.
“It was really nice to go there and like meet a lot of people who have had similar experiences, and then a lot of my friends who I’ve met through the group their parents are like super accepting of who they are,” Arnold said.
Parrishcraig recommended a variety of resources for transgender students who are struggling, including the Transgender equality network, the Center for Equality, PRIDE on campus and Students for Gender Equality.
Despite these resources, transgender students need more student services and curriculum, said Lisa Corrigan, the director of the UA Gender Studies Program.
“Gender-neutral bathrooms are a small but important first step to creating safe and secure environment that would completely be including student-support services and specifically LGBTQ history, science and art that documents LGBTQ life in America,” Corrigan said.

A version of the story appeared in The Arkansas Traveler.