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UMBC plans to add more all-gender restrooms, seeks input from students and staff

In a bid to ensure everyone at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has “access to safe restroom facilities,” university officials are developing guidelines and implementation plans for the addition of multiple all-gender restrooms across the campus, according to a campus email.

The guidelines and implementation plans will be developed with input from students and staff, including members of UMBC’S LGBTQ community, according to the message, which is dated Feb. 13 and signed by UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski and Provost Philip Rous.

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That consultation will allow university officials to “move forward with appropriate rapidity, understanding that we will learn as we go and make adjustments as needed, to ensure that these changes meet the needs of our campus community.”

Keith Bowman, one of the co-leaders of UMBC’s steering committee on all-gender restrooms and dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology, said there are a number of reasons why folks might want to use an all-gender restroom.

“The traditional design of our buildings and restrooms create compromises for transgender people or people who do not identify in a binary way. But [traditional restrooms also affect] people who do not fit traditional norms of masculinity or femininity, or people who have medical conditions,” Bowman said.

He added that parents or other relatives escorting young children of different genders, or caregivers assisting people who are disabled, can also be hindered by traditional restrooms.

“We’re trying to provide comfort and support for all people,” Bowman said.

There are currently 41 single-user, all-gender restrooms in administration, academic and student life buildings across campus that are open to students and visitors and 16 single-user, all-gender restrooms in residences halls.

University officials said the next step in their process is developing guidelines to designate “a small number” of multi-user restrooms as all-gender restrooms for buildings that don’t have any all-gender restrooms.

That process will involve prepping the sites, by putting up signage before any changes take effect, and creating signage that points to the nearest single-gender, traditional restroom for those who are more comfortable in those environments.

“We really do have a responsibility to broaden access and as we do it make sure the entire community understands how and why we’re doing it,” Bowman said.

About 10 buildings in the academic core of UMBC’s campus do not have all-gender restrooms, according a campus map. This can present challenges for students, faculty, staff and other community members who would be better served by a non-traditional restroom, Bowman said.

By the end of the current academic semester, Bowman said, the steering committee hopes to convert at least one multi-use restroom in one of those buildings to an all-gender restroom, as an example of how the process will work moving forward.

There should not be a significant cost associated with the work, Bowman said.

UMBC designated all single-user restrooms on campus as all-gender restrooms in 2018, a shift that mostly involved changing signage to designate existing restrooms for all genders or to make restrooms easier to find.

New buildings or buildings that are have scheduled renovations already have all-gender restrooms included in their designs, Bowman said.

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Other schools in the area, both public and private, also have gender-neutral or all-gender restrooms. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore lists more than three dozen all-gender restrooms across its campus buildings, and Towson University has at least two dozen gender-neutral restrooms in public areas of the campus.

Sean Welsh, a Towson University spokesman, said Towson has a three-year plan to address the buildings across campus that “do not have an inclusive restroom.”

Hopkins, Towson and UMBC all offer gender-inclusive housing, where students can mutually opt to be housed with students of any gender identity.

“We hope that students in the process of discovering their gender identity, who do not wish to identify themselves by gender, gay or bisexual students, and students who feel more comfortable with a roommate of a different gender will be able to find a more compatible roommate and living situation within this community,” UMBC explains on its housing website.

As part of its ongoing process, UMBC created a web portal for stakeholders to provide input or ask questions. Individuals can also contact the steering committee at agr@umbc.edu.

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