On April 14, the Cal Poly Queer Student Union (QSU) will begin hosting a “shit-in,” a three-day event designed to put students in the shoes of their transgender peers and to pledge to only use gender-neutral bathrooms from April 14 to 16. The event will start on Tuesday, April 14, at 11 a.m. in the Julian A. McPhee University Union (UU) and end in a demonstration on April 16.
QSU members will be taking signups to participate in the event at their booth in the UU as well as handing out informational flyers and maps of the all-gender bathrooms on campus. QSU will also have its petition on hand asking administration to establish more all-gender bathrooms, which has reached nearly 300 signatures to date.
Political science freshman Mick Bruckner and industrial engineering freshman Matt Klepfer are co-founders of QSU.
Bruckner said the pair got the idea to host the “shit-in” from San Diego State University, whose Trans* Action and Advocacy Student Coalition held an event of the same name in October 2014.
“We 95 percent ripped it off from San Diego State University, which had a really successful event in the fall doing this,” Bruckner said. “We just really liked the idea, because it’s a really fun, lighthearted way to get people to think about an issue that they wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about.”
Bruckner said the event is aimed at bringing awareness to the difficulty of accessing all-gender bathrooms on campus.
“This event is not equating the experience that trans and gender non-conforming students have on campus; it’s just showing Cal Poly students the idea of how hard it might be to find these all-gender bathrooms,” Bruckner said.
Bruckner said the issue of easily accessible restrooms is among the most pressing for trans and gender non-conforming students.
“A lot of trans and gender non-conforming students will cite one of their top concerns in their lives as accessibility to an all-gender bathroom,” Bruckner said. “This can create emotionally dangerous, physically dangerous situations in these bathrooms when someone perceives someone to not be the gender specified on the door.”
Music freshman Alexei Morgan is a transgender student who discussed the difficulties of finding a gender-neutral bathroom on campus.
“There aren’t very many gender-neutral bathrooms, and the ones that are gender neutral are really inaccessible; they’re on the edges of campus,” Morgan said. “There’s a bunch of single-stall bathrooms that are, for some reason, gendered, and it just makes it hard to find a safe place to use the restroom. I think that another bad thing about it is that you can’t make the argument that there aren’t any, because technically there are. But who’s going to cross campus just to use the restroom? If you have to pee, you have to pee.”
Morgan spoke to the discomfort he personally has felt using gendered restrooms on campus.
“I don’t identify as female, but I don’t pass well enough to use a male restroom, but I still don’t look quite feminine enough to not look out of place in a women’s restroom. So that puts me in a really uncomfortable situation.”
Adam Serafin is the Pride Center coordinator and QSU’s club adviser.
“When we’re talking about inclusive practices, policies and facilities for transgender and non-gender-conforming students, one of the first things that comes up is access to restrooms,” Serafin said. “And what’s behind that is access to a safe place to use a restroom. Somewhere that is emotionally safe, but also physically safe for students.”
The Pride Center maintains a list of all-gender bathrooms on campus, but not all of them are easily accessible. Some of them require keys, some of them require permission from faculty to use, and most of them are in faculty spaces. Not included in the Pride Center’s list are all-gender bathrooms located in residence halls, as they aren’t considered public to all students, just the ones living in the building.
“As the Queer Student Union was addressing the issues around policies and facilities for gender non-conforming, trans, gender-queer students, what they found was, as they looked at the list of all-gender bathrooms on campus — and they kind of did the rounds and checked them out — they identified that not very many of them are accessible,” Serafin said. “So they wanted to bring awareness to that, to the lack of all-gender bathrooms on campus and petition the university to address the issue.”
While there are numerous problems facing trans and gender non-conforming individuals, Klepfer said the issue of restrooms is a good place to start because ameliorating the concern is tangible.
“It starts a conversation on gender identity and gender norms in general,” Bruckner added.
Going forward, Klepfer and Bruckner would like administration to agree to create a “reasonable number” of all-gender, single-stall restrooms on campus as new facilities are built.
Bruckner said QSU hopes to put up “gender diversity signs” at restrooms, an idea implemented at University of California, Santa Cruz.
“Gender diversity signs say anyone who identifies with the gender posted can use this bathroom,” Bruckner said. “It’s an easy and affordable way to increase acceptance on campus.”
Klepfer and Bruckner would like signage on existing single-stall gendered restrooms to be changed to say “all-gender.”
“We’re not trying to change all bathrooms on campus to all-gender. We’re not trying to build brand new all-gender bathrooms next to gendered bathrooms. We’re trying to establish a reasonable number of all gender-bathrooms on campus. Whether that means converting existing bathrooms or making sure there’s ones in new buildings,” Bruckner said.
Serafin was enthusiastic about Klepfer, Bruckner and QSU’s work.
“I’m always really excited to see students who are organizing, who are really passionate about an issue that want to create change but also create awareness on our campus about an issue that is affecting a number of our students here,” Serafin said. “I’m excited to see them do it.”