Rachel Crandall (center) presenting. Photo courtesy of Transgender Michigan.

OU Students Rally for Gender Neutral Restrooms

by Crystal A. Proxmire

What started out as a class project has grown into a movement to get gender neutral restrooms at Oakland University.

Margaret Leahy is a social work major in Dr. Dalton Connally's LGBT studies class. Students in Connally's class started learning about the issues transgender people face, including the discomfort, or even danger, faced when they might have to choose a restroom that others might consider "wrong."

One solution is "gender neutral" or "family" restrooms where any person is welcome. "We found out there aren't many on campus, and that's a problem," Leahy said. "It's important for safety and for everyone to be comfortable. Plus, there are health dangers of someone not being able to use the bathroom. We need to make this accessible for everyone."

The class decided to start a petition. "We've got a few hundred (signatures) so far. We're going until we get 600, then we'll turn them into the school board." The petition calls for more gender neutral restrooms, ideally in every building.

Leahy said that some will be as easy as changing signs, but some buildings would require some construction. There are reportedly six gender neutral restrooms currently on campus.

In addition to the petition, students have been holding peaceful protests and a rally. On Nov. 26 the Gender Bender Rally was held with over 50 students attending and speakers from Ruth Ellis Center, Affirmations, Transgender Michigan and Gender Identity Network Alliance sharing information with the public. On campus organizations Transcend and the Gay Straight Alliance have also been helping get the word out.

"It's not any particular group that's behind the petition," Leahy said. "But we have started a Facebook page called Gender Safe at OU that can be found at http://www.facebook.com/SocialAdvocacyForLgbt?ref=stream, to help get the word out."

The rally helped them add signatures to the petition and also gave them a chance to talk with other students about the issues transgender individuals face. There was an art display, tables from the various organizations along with the speakers.

Rachel Crandal of Transgender Michigan was one of the presenters.

"I wanted to help the student effort for several reasons," Crandal said. "I believe that there needs to be gender neutral bathrooms everywhere. Many people are gender queer or gender nonconformists and they deserve a safe place to pee. Also I am really proud of the students and I know that they are our future.

"I spoke about the need for activism and how Transgender Michigan did some of the first transgender activism in Michigan. It felt great to see the students working on behalf of the community and it convinced me that Transgender Michigan needs to put an even greater focus on youth. In Michigan we need much more activism and it is the mission of our organization to work with groups and organizations in Michigan to make this happen."

Leahy pointed out that gender-neutral restrooms aren't just for transgender people. "There are a lot of people with families, and it can be hard for them taking their children into a restroom where they may not feel comfortable or welcome. And for people with disabilities, having access is important. We are trying to advocate for everyone in every building."

Anyone is welcome to visit the campus and advocate for more inclusive facilities. However, only Oakland University students and staff are able to sign the petition. Leahy and the other students hope to have 600 signatures by the end of the year.

Find out more by following Gender Safe OU on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SocialAdvocacyForLgbt?ref=stream.

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