University seeks to add gender-inclusive restrooms

Toni Hunt City Reporter

Kent State plans to build gender-inclusive restrooms for the safety and convenience of members of the LGBTQ community. With the main campus evolving rapidly, gender inclusive restrooms are becoming more of a norm.

“All the new academic buildings that are part of the Foundation of Excellence construction projects have at least one (gender inclusive restroom),” said Michael Bruder, the university’s executive director of facilities, planning and design. “They serve a lot of different needs — we think they’re important.”

A gender-inclusive restroom is a single-stall bathroom that provides a suitable and safe area for people of all different backgrounds, including people with disabilities, parents with young children or anyone who wants privacy, Bruder said. The major users of these restrooms are members of the transgender community.  

Ken Ditlevson, the director of Kent’s LGBTQ Student Center, said these restrooms eliminate potential humiliation or bullying that transgendered people may face in a public restroom.

“This is just a safe environment that really protects our students,” Ditlevson said.

Social geography major and LGBTQ studies minor Emily St.John-Grubb said people of the community may still feel uncomfortable using the restroom of their birth sex. She said she is grateful for the gender inclusive restrooms because they save her from being harassed.

“We feel scared sometimes to even think about going into the restroom that we identify with,” Grubb said, “But we also feel scared to go to the restroom we were born as because there’s a lot of bullying. Universal restrooms are really the only way.”

Some laws in effect in Ohio, including one in Cleveland, state people who identify as transgender have to use restrooms that identify with their birth sex. Bruder said the gender-inclusive restrooms built at Kent State consider this community.

“We like them to be convenient, but we also want them to be discreet,” Bruder said. “Some transgender individuals can feel threatened or unsafe, so by having a little bit more privacy when you’re going in and out of that restroom can be more appreciated.”

Ditlevson said he hopes to see more universal restrooms outside of the university, like in downtown Kent — a student is trying to raise the issue with the Kent City Council. “He’s trying to get some legislation around as they renovate buildings around Kent,” Ditlevson said. “I’m really excited that a student is bringing this need up and is kind of going to challenge the system.”

Although the city of Kent does not have a large number of gender-inclusive buildings, the university plans to see more designed on campus in upcoming years. Bruder said the only thing that would stop them from building the restrooms is money. “There’s some academics that we would like to upgrade restrooms,” Bruder said. “We just haven’t been able to fund them for various reasons.”

Bruder said for the main renovation and construction projects the bathrooms are considered part of the cost of construction, with the funding varying with each project. Other funds come from philanthropy and gifts or from the capital allocation from the state.