By Lianna Hubbard
Eden, a freshman, avoids going to the bathroom in campus buildings whenever possible.
Usually, she walks from the campus to her personal dorm bathroom. But sometimes, she can’t avoid the need to go during classes.
“Walking in is always a gamble,” Eden said. “I try to get in the stall quickly. Sometimes I wait in the stall until no one else is in there to walk out.”
Eden, 21, is a transgender woman, meaning she is a woman described as male on her birth certificate. She does not identify with her last name and is planning to change it.
She is among the 1.3 million transgender adults in the United States. Like many others, she struggles with feeling unsafe in public restrooms.
“If I go into the men’s bathroom, I’m going to get looks because I don’t look like a boy. If I go into the women’s I’m going to get looks because I don’t look like a girl,” said Eden.
Not only does she worry about uncomfortable looks, but also the whirlwind of politics surrounding her bathroom use.
Debates over “bathroom bills” have raged for years, with North Carolina going so far as ban people from using bathrooms that don’t match with the sex on their birth certificate.
FSW has no official policy on gendered bathroom use, but has a general rule for their public bathrooms.
“You have the right to use the bathroom with which you identify,” said Jana Sabo, the FSW chief equity officer and Title IX coordinator.
FSW follows the 2016 federal guidelines requiring schools to allow equal access to bathrooms. That guideline was rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017.
Now FSW looks to court decisions on other public institutions for guidance.
“We look at the lawsuits and cases in court right now,” said Sabo. “So far, the courts are siding on the side of the students using the restroom with which they identify.”
Since her senior year of high school, Eden has used the women’s restroom.
“If I’m going to choose between two options that could end badly, I might as well choose the one that makes me comfortable,” she said.
Even though Eden is in compliance with the school’s rule, she fears retaliation.
“I’m especially afraid that if I go in the women’s room there might be staff in there who might try and do something.”
While Sabo tells anyone who asks that bathrooms are open to transgender people, she does not have a channel to let faculty, staff, or the greater student body know about the rule.
Ty, a freshman transgender man, fears violence while using any public restroom, including FSW’s.
“If I walk into the man’s bathroom, I’m going to get beat up. If I walk into the women’s, I’m going to cause a scene,” he said. “I don’t really belong in either.”
Avoiding public restrooms is especially difficult for Ty, 18, as he spends most of his time on campus.
“I struggle and wait till I get home,” said Ty. “I don’t use the [public] bathroom anywhere.”
Ty used the S-Building’s first floor restroom once, after making sure no one else was in there.
“I was terrified the whole time someone was going to walk in,” he said.
Eden hopes that more awareness of the school’s practice would ease her fear in the restrooms.
“The only way I would maybe feel better is if there was a formal and visible rule,” she said. “Something explicitly stating that it’s okay [to use the bathroom of your choice] would help. It would help with the fear that staff might do something about it.”
Sabo plans on integrating the rule into this year’s training for faculty and staff, but has not communicated any pathway to inform students.
Ty would still feel unsafe even if students and faculty were more aware.
“A policy can’t stop hate,” he said. “The best thing for them to do is take one of the family bathrooms and change it to a gender neutral one. It’s literally changing a sticker.”
The Equal Opportunities Office plans to create gender neutral restrooms soon.
There are few single-use bathrooms on campus. Sabo hopes to identify those and mark them open to all genders.
“Once we identify these, we will create a map and put it on the website to identify where all-inclusive bathrooms are located,” said Sabo.
For now, Eden will continue to use public bathroom when she cannot avoid it.
She hopes the reactions don’t get worse than odd looks.
“Looks aren’t violent or dangerous physically, but they add up,” Eden said.