Gender-neutral bathroom signs threaten our 'safe space,' UNC students complain

Social justice advocates at the University of North Carolina are outraged over new gender-neutral bathroom signs, saying they prefer the signs put up by students years ago.

Students with UNC’s “Campus Y,” a self-described center for social justice, were ahead of the gender-neutral curve when in 2013 they designated four single-stall restrooms in their on-campus building as being open to all genders.

Now that gender-neutral restrooms are being established throughout campus, however, The Daily Tar Heel reports that Campus Y members are complaining that the school surreptitiously removed their original signage early Wednesday morning, replacing it with university-approved placards that the students consider an insult to their previous efforts.

Specifically, they are upset that the newly-installed signs do not include the transgender pictogram (a combination of the Mars and Venus symbols used to indicate male and female organisms) and merely depict a stationary man, woman, and disabled person.

[RELATED: WVU opens gender-neutral bathrooms, ignores handicap accessibility]

Accordingly, students have called the move “hurtful,” criticizing the administration for conforming to old-fashioned gender binaries.

“It’s really hurtful knowing that the UNC administration—whoever those people are in an office somewhere—could take all that student passion away silently one morning before class,” Campus Y member Kaitlin Harlow told the Tar Heel.

Campus Y co-president Regan Buchanan agreed with Harlow’s criticisms, saying that while the new signs appear to be inclusive because they still permit both males and females alike to use the same bathroom, the actual effect is to backhandedly exclude transgender people.

[RELATED: Yale says all-gender bathroom project 'is about public signaling']

“I think people will look at the new signs and think they look similar because you can still use the bathroom whether you’re male or female in accordance to the new signs, but it blatantly excludes people that don’t conform to gender binaries,” Buchanan explained.

Others went so far as to accuse the administration of openly attacking UNC’s LGBTQ community by replacing the restroom signs.

“Campus Y is a safe place for queer folks on campus, represented in a [sic] signage, so to tear down the signs we’ve made is an attack on this space and what it represents,” declared student Griffin Unger.

Another, Brennan Lewis, who serves on the board for UNC’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance, was surprised by the move and echoed Unger’s call for more safe spaces on campus.

“It’s framed in a way where UNC looks like they’re saying either trans people don’t exist or trans people don’t have our support,” he complained. “It makes me feel like I don’t have safe spaces on campus and don’t have the support of the university.”

A spokesperson for UNC, however, explained that the change was actually part of a broader effort to make the campus more welcoming to transgender students after the school announced last semester that it would install more than 150 gender-neutral bathrooms over the summer.

“The pictograms on the signs follow federal government recommendations and take into account considerations including international recognition,” Jim Gregory explained. “That’s important on campus because of the high volume of international visitors.”

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