Trans students on the impact of CSU’s first inclusive multi-stall restroom, new in BH 451
Written by: Lynn Nichols
In the first week of the fall semester, I gave at least two dozen people directions to the restroom in Berkman Hall. Sometimes, this meant leading students past classrooms down the halls on the fourth floor, but usually, it looked like me calling across the LGBTQ+ Student Services Center to ask if a friend had seen the new gender-neutral bathroom yet. By September, it seemed like everyone had, and they still shared my enthusiasm. In that time, I had at least ten eager, half-shouted and completely genuine conversations about BH 451: how nice it was, and how surprised we all were that it even existed.
Cleveland State announced the opening of the new restroom in a September press release. The project was planned and executed with input from the university’s Inclusive Student Engagement Division and LGBTQ+ Student Services. In addition to “fourteen private stalls for gender-neutral use,” BH 451 also contains a wheelchair-accessible bathroom and a “private lactation room for nursing mothers.”
“I came from a very homophobic/transphobic environment, so seeing something as simple as that bathroom is almost magical,”
Even as more colleges across the United States move towards inclusive policies for transgender and gender nonconforming students, multi-stall bathroom options are rare. As Connor Mahon, LGBTQ+ Student Services Office Operations Manager and senior at Cleveland State, writes in an article for The Buckeye Flame, BH 451 is “the first of its kind at [CSU] and one of the first at an Ohio public university.”
For Kevin Robert, a junior majoring in music and English, the space represents newfound recognition in the campus community. “I came from a very homophobic/transphobic environment, so seeing something as simple as that bathroom is almost magical,” he said. “It’s like a little utopia for trans/queer kids.”
“Like, ceiling to floor doors? THANK YOU.”
Beyond its all-gender purpose, students are drawn to the new bathroom because they actually enjoy its physical setup and design. Lee Barden, a third-year creative writing student who uses they/them pronouns, appreciates that BH 451 is “so bright and usually clean” compared to other options on-campus. “IT IS THE IDEAL BATHROOM,” they said in a text interview. “Like, ceiling to floor doors? THANK YOU.”
The restroom serves as a powerful means to affirm the identities of nonbinary and genderqueer students, who would otherwise be forced into the binary space of men’s or women’s multi-stall facilities. For many students, access to an inclusive restroom is a question of safety. “On days that I’m presenting a lot more ambiguously, it’s good to have a bathroom where I won’t have any worries on my mind,” Barden said.
Even trans students whose genders are recognized by binary standards may feel safer in an all-gender bathroom like BH 451. In most of my afternoons at the LGBTQ+ Center, I hear more than one person consulting with peers about which men’s or women’s restrooms have the least traffic. Someone might leave for the bathroom, then return in less than a minute with the disappointed announcement that “there was a cis man” in the men’s restroom. Conversely, another student could be gone for ten or twenty minutes, because they heard a group walk into the women’s restroom and then felt trapped in the stall. Especially for transgender women, who have been demonized as threats in hate campaigns and so-called “bathroom bills,” all-gender restrooms are a necessary safety resource.
The restroom serves as a powerful means to affirm the identities of nonbinary and genderqueer students, who would otherwise be forced into the binary space of men’s or women’s multi-stall facilities.
Prior to the opening of BH 451, the university already offered single-occupant all-gender restrooms in several buildings on campus, including the Student Center, Rhodes Tower and the Rec Center. However, as LGBTQ+ Student Services Coordinator Kara Tellaisha pointed out in the original CSU press release, directing trans students to these individual bathrooms “can reinforce the ‘othering’ of trans* folks when it’s the only safe option for them.” Trans and cis students alike can appreciate the privacy that a single-stall bathroom offers, but if there are no other gender-affirming choices available, trans students may feel that they are deliberately isolated from the rest of the community.
Furthermore, the obvious capacity limitations of single-occupant restrooms leave many students without access to resources. Third-year urban studies major Autumn Hyde told me that she only knows where to find three other all-gender restrooms, located in the Student Center and Berkman Hall. Because the second floor of the Student Center is one of the highest-traffic areas on campus, Hyde said, the restroom there “always seems to be occupied every time I want to use it. One time I waited for almost 10 minutes before giving up.”
For many students, access to an inclusive restroom is a question of safety.
A gender-inclusive bathroom with 14 stalls can support more students as well as allow access to students who wouldn’t have used similar facilities before. Trans and gender nonconforming students who are aware of the crowded circumstances which Hyde described may feel that, if they could use the men’s or women’s restroom without facing harassment, then they shouldn’t use the few single-stall options available. Of course, acting even temporarily within a gendered space that isn’t true to them is still stressful and invalidating for trans students. Lee Barden said that consciousness of limited resources has stopped them from choosing gender-affirming bathrooms in the past: “I’m worried someone else might ‘need it more,’ yknow?”
Even as a valuable addition for the LGBTQ+ community on campus, the support which the restroom can offer is limited because of its status as the first and only of its kind at CSU. In the past semester, BH 451 has been closed multiple times for maintenance. During one extended closure, which lasted for several days in October, many students lost access to a resource they had begun to rely on. In addition, while the university press release describes the restroom as “centrally located,” all students interviewed for this article agreed that BH 451 is out of the way.
all students interviewed for this article agreed that BH 451 is out of the way.
“Unless you frequent the fourth floor of Berkman . . . you might not even know it exists,” a nonbinary sophomore (who requested to remain anonymous) said. During our conversation, they also identified the limited availability of mental health counseling, the slow-to-nonexistent administrative response to the anti-LGBTQ+ evangelists, and other gaps in support for trans students. “While Cleveland State has taken many moves in the right direction, it’s not nearly enough.”
When I speak to trans students, for this article and on a daily basis, nearly all say that they would like to see more multi-stall facilities like BH 451 in other locations on campus. Berkman Hall is a building common to most majors, making it an understandable first choice, but even single-stall all-gender restrooms are scarce in places like Julka Hall, the Middough Building and the Science & Research Center. Beyond the obvious need for more bathrooms to support more people, consistent and ongoing effort to listen to trans students will create a campus community founded on equity and inclusion.