We Don’t Care What’s Going on “Down There:” Libraries as Safe Spaces for All Patrons, Including Those Who Use the Restrooms by Alexa Hight

Some of the blog posts have already alluded to or addressed it head on, but under the current government administration politics have turned for the worse and people’s personal safety are constantly threatened. While for most minorities (whether minorities of sex, color, gender, and/or sexual orientation) threat to safety is not a new concept under Trump’s regime, it has gotten worse rather than better. And in some areas, issues were growing worse even before Trump was elected.

In March 2016, North Carolina passed a bill that required people to use the bathroom that aligned with the sex recorded on their birth certificate, license etc. The argument was that it protected bathroom users (women) from assaulters pretending to be trans women. Obviously, this was heavily discriminatory to transgender as well as gender neutral individuals. (Bathrooms that force gender neutral individuals to pick a bathroom is discriminatory in and of itself.) While transgender persons born in North Carolina can obtain modified birth certificates on which their sex is different than what was originally identified at the time of their birth, they may do so only if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery (Schoiet, 2016). In response to the passing of the bill, Janet Mock – a transgender rights activist – took to twitter and responded, “Upon entering a restroom, trans women are stared at, yelled at, dragged, kicked, shamed, deemed unworthy, asked to prove their womanhood…Let’s drop the ‘we are protecting (some) girls & women.’ We should be protecting all women, especially trans girls & women. Not villainizing them, pathologizing them & further marginalizing them” (Mock, 2016). Mock’s tweets are supported by studies and statistics on sexual assaults in restrooms, which show no incidence of assaults where the perpetrator was a transgender person using a restroom aligning with their gender identity, while 70% of transgender people report facing harassment or assault while trying to use a restroom in DC (Herman, 2013). Although North Carolina’s bathroom bill was repealed earlier this year, other states have introduced or passed similar bills, and safety issues for trans and gender neutral individuals are still prevalent throughout the US (Park & McLaughlin, 2017).

What does this have to do with libraries? Well, according to the American Libraries Association’s Code of Ethics, as professional, librarians aim to provide equitable access to every individual (ALA, 2017). This has often been interpreted in such a way to say that libraries are for every individual and as such it is a safe space and all are welcome; although other blog posts have pointed out that this is not in fact the case historically. However, in the past few years, libraries both public and academic have made efforts to be more inclusive and welcoming for their transgender patrons. Some libraries have reinforced the idea that patrons are welcome to use whichever bathroom suits their identified gender. However, librarians such as Katherine Weadley, who is the director of Lyons Regional Library District in Colorado, not every patron fits the traditional gender norms (Cottrell, 2015). In other words, saying that everyone is welcome to use either the men’s or women’s bathroom does not work for those who identify as neither or other. Some libraries, such as Portland Community College in Oregon have undergone construction to create single stall gender-neutral bathrooms (Cottrell, 2015). Doing so removes the issue of patrons who feel uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with patrons of another gender, a resulting issue of welcoming everyone to use either restroom. Single stall gender-neutral bathrooms also ensure the safety of every user. Construction of all new single stall gender-neutral bathrooms may be out of the question for every library, however, due to the cost and time necessary in order to do so. Some libraries have encouraged users to use handicap single stall restrooms if they feel unsafe or do not identify as either male or female. Issues clearly remain, although libraries are on the path towards inclusion.

The Allen Ginsberg Library is one such library that is unable to afford to create more single stall gender-neutral bathrooms in areas where patrons use the restroom. Fortunately, the university’s Office for Inclusive Community created the #COMMUNITYRESTROOMPROJECT, whose “Queering the Space” campaign “transformed all restrooms into spaces which educate the community on issues facing the trans population and the impact that gendered bathrooms, and the gender binary, have on all of us” (Office for Inclusive Community, 2017). In every bathroom, there are posters informing bathroom goers on studies, statistics, and other bathroom-related information. While the library and university are unable to realize the campus and the bathrooms they wish to see with gender-neutral restrooms for all, they have used the opportunity to educate their patrons, staff, students, and faculty. While not all libraries may be able to make their patrons feel welcome and safe with the physical structures of the library and bathrooms, they may aim to do so with signs, pictures, and statistics that only educate their users, but make transgender and gender-neutral issues more visible; this in and of itself is supportive of the library’s users.

Resources:
American Library Association. (2017, September 26). Professional Ethics. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://www.ala.org/tools/ethics

Cottrell, M. (2015). Libraries move toward gender-neutral bathrooms. American Libraries, 46(11/12), 16-17.

Herman, J. L. (2013, June). Gendered restrooms and minority stress: The public regulation of gender and its impact on transgender people’s lives. Journal of Public Management and Social Policy. UCLA School of Law Williams Institute. Retrieved October 13, 2017 from https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Herman-Gendered-Restrooms- and-Minority-Stress-June-2013.pdf

Mock, J. (2016, March 24). Upon entering a restroom, trans women are stared at, yelled at, dragged, kicked, shamed, deemed unworthy, asked to prove their womanhood. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from https://twitter.com/janetmock/status/712998495804895233

Office for Inclusive Community. (2017). Community update. Naropa University. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://www.naropa.edu/the-naropa- experience/inclusive/community-update.php

Park, M., & McLaughlin, E. C. (2017, March 30). North Carolina repeals ‘bathroom bill’. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/30/politics/north- carolina-hb2-agreement/index.html

Shoichet, C. E. (2016, April 5). “North Carolina transgender law: Is it discriminatory?” CNN. Retrieved October 13, 2017 from http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/03/us/north-carolina- gender-bathrooms-law-opposing-views/

 

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