National address for gender-neutral bathrooms sparks controversy among Ball State students
The federal Title IX law, which bans sex discrimination in schools, has been interpreted by courts and the US Justice and Education Departments to prohibit discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming students, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration issued a directive in form of a letter to all public schools nationwide telling each district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathroom they feel matches their gender identity.
The declaration is not a force of law, but it does contain a threat to schools who oppose. The letter reads: "Schools that do not abide by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal aid."
This has caused mixed emotions for students.
Nikki Campbell, a freshman telecommunications major, said Obama’s order puts her on edge.
“As an incoming freshman at BSU, the law somewhat has me on edge about public bathrooms. Not for the transgender at all — I love them and want them to have equality,” Campbell said. “However, I am nervous about the sexual predators who can take advantage of this law. A straight man can claim to be transgender and go into the women's restroom, and nobody can do anything about it because of the law.”
According to Huffington Post, there has only been one case of this happening in Canada, and no cases in the United States. But Campbell thinks it would be helpful for transgender students to go to the restroom that matches the gender that they look like.
“I think if you look like a woman, go to the women's restroom. If you look like a man, go to the men's,” Campbell said.
Ricky Dunn, a freshman psychology major who is openly gay, said he believes Obama’s decision on transgenders having the right to use the bathroom that matches their pronoun was outstanding.
“He showed that the LGBT community is becoming more equal,” Dunn said. “This movement should be a priority. Believe it or not, people making the movement to become transgender or choose another pronoun is very common nowadays. Therefore, the schools should allow the students to use their pronoun bathroom, or install new ones just for them. Considering schools like to preach equality, then this must happen for the better good.”
Dunn, like Campbell, did mention the fear some have of this attracting predators.
“I am for the movement; however, there is always the chance that a pedophile might abuse this right and molest a harmless child, or even a rapist,” Dunn said. “But since we cannot do anything to prevent this without going back to old way, the only hope is for people to leave it alone and let the LGBT community have this blessing.”
Many also disagree on whether the issue should be handled nationally or by the states.
“This case should be a national issue, but we all know that states will always put their two-cents in the issue and try to stop it if they are not in favor of the issue,” Dunn said. “The United States government should take this issue and make it a federal law to protect the sensitive issue."
Ball State’s administration was quick to comment on the directive after President Obama’s letter was sent.
“Ball State prides itself on being a welcoming place for all people, regardless of race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/gender expression, physical or mental disability, national origin, ancestry or age,” said Kay Bales, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “We are currently assessing what, if anything, would need to be changed to accommodate the new federal guidelines shared by the Obama administration.”
The university has had an issue with bathroom access in the past.
Hannah Winter, a junior environmental management major, identifies as non-binary, a term meaning they do not identify specifically as a female or male.
Because of this, Winter has felt uncomfortable with bathrooms at school.
“Bathrooms have always kind of stressed me out, but for transgender people who identify somewhere as a binary, I think it’s really important that they feel comfortable,” Winter said. “[Not allowing someone access to a bathroom] is a violation to human rights. There is no reason that anyone should be told they cannot use a public facility.”
Last year, Winter proposed legislation to the Student Government Association to get a unisex bathroom on every floor of every building at Ball State.
SGA passed legislation this year to have a unisex bathroom in all newly constructed or renovated buildings.
Meagan Mullen, who served as the 2015-16 treasurer for SGA during the time the legislation was passed, said the university and SGA do not discriminate against students and are pushing for all students to feel equal and comfortable.
“I believe Ball State is an accepting atmosphere and anyone who identifies as transgender shouldn't have an issue using the restroom in any situation,” Mullen said. “SGA is here to represent what the students want, and I believe they will act as a supportive ally in the lives of transgender students.”
Mariann Fant, Ball State's Spectrum president, said along with SGA’s legislation, the LGBT club has been directly tackling this issue since transgender students have complained in the past.
“I have heard transgender as well as gender non-conforming students complain about the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus,” Fant said. “They are also concerned about harassment when they choose to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.”
Nothing has been set in terms of change since Obama’s directive, but Fant said she believes this is something the school should take seriously.
“If there are no plans to remodel a certain building in the next five years, Ball State should look into constructing a gender-neutral bathroom from the existing restrooms in that building,” Fant said. “There is always more work to be done in regards to making transgender students feel safer and more comfortable on campus.”