Jesse Bowman
Jesse Bowman / Columnist

President Obama recently declared April to be National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. In his proclamation, Obama says “preventing sexual assault begins with everyone getting involved in promoting healthy relationships and encouraging respect for the equality of others.” He discussed the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign that has attempted to work with schools and communities to stand up and speak out against sexual assault.

Unfortunately, roughly more than 700,000 Americans have been forgotten about in our efforts as a nation to promote equality and provide safety for our fellow neighbors.

Every single day transgenders — those who do not subscribe to the traditional binary gender system — have to face an uncomfortable and often terrifying situation when having to use public restrooms.

Currently at Lane, aside from the few family oriented bathrooms, there are no gender neutral bathrooms available to students, faculty members or guests who may identify as trans, or simply do not subscribe to the idea of having any assigned gender.

Transgenderism is by no means a new concept. Native American tribes has third gender roles that are referred to as “Two Spirit” for their members who neither identified as male or female.

Other studies show that the concept has existed all over the world for quite some time, but the system of binary bathrooms has repressed over 700,000 people in the U.S. according to a study by the Williams Institute, and has left many people in a difficult and awkward situation. What bathroom to choose. What identity to accept for the moment.

“When I use public restrooms I find myself thinking ‘act normal, act normal’ — because if you don’t you might get a busted face,” said Alex Emmert, a student who identifies as genderqueer. Emmert presents themselves as androgynous and uses gender neutral pronouns such as they, them and their.

The big fear from opposition of gender neutral bathrooms believes that if schools and other public facilities start using these bathrooms sexual predators will exploit them and abuse innocent people. However, these ideas are nothing more than mere fear-mongering hate-filled rhetoric. Worse, the very real crisis of violence towards transgenders in bathrooms has largely been ignored.

“A trans person is way more nervous about using a bathroom and getting the living shit kicked out of them for reasons such as transphobia and the invalid belief that we are predators,” Emmert said.

Gender specific restrooms restrict the rights of the transgender community, but also affect more people than one may realize. A mother with a young son or a caretaker of someone with disabilities are just a couple of examples of people challenged by the lack of gender neutral bathrooms.

With a pronounced LGTBQ community at Lane, it is hard to believe that the powers in charge have not seen the discriminatory box that has been placed around a selected group of individuals. We have not promoted privacy for our basic bodily functions equally to our fellow students by continuing this binary system of bathrooms.

It’s disappointing, astonishing and downright creepy that so many people actively fight to segregate where one chooses to go to the bathroom.

The fight for equality is far from over. The battle for civil rights is happening and the time for change is now.

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Jesse Bowman