Tech’s website has no specific rule on where transgender and gender non-conforming people that feel discomfort using their assigned gender’s restroom on campus should go. In fact, no search result on Tech’s website mentions the word transgender at all.
Chief of the communications office, Karen Lykins, explained the lack of official policies at Tech regarding restroom use.
“Tennessee Tech does not have a policy on bathroom use, but provides men’s, women’s and unisex restrooms for the convenience of the campus community,” wrote Lykins via email.
Jonah Ralston the president of the oSTEM club, which stands for “out in STEM,” and Ryley Harrell, president of the Lambda GSA club, which are both of the transgender-related clubs on campus, expressed their opinions on what the school should do.
They both agree that there needs to be more single stall, unisex restrooms on campus so that cisgender, those identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth, and transgender students alike can use the bathroom in peace.
Ralston is under the impression that this lack of official policy may be due to not recognizing how many students on campus are LGBTQ+.
“In the South, it may not feel as though people are open or out about stuff, so Tech may not see it as an issue, because Tech just assumes that we are all straight or cisgender,” said Ralston.
Ralston empathized with the transgender experience of discomfort in the restroom, because, as a cisgender, sometimes femininly dressed gay man, he also has had embarassing moments while trying to do his business.
“I usually get stared at, but the other thing as well is that people ask questions about sexuality in the bathroom,” divulged Ralston.
Ralston believes that diversity, and furthermore inclusivity, are necessary to making sure everyone feels comfortable, in the restroom and everywhere else on campus.
“[Tech wants] to have diversity, but they don’t necessarily know how to build that inclusivity part. They try to come up with a formula … but it’s gotta be natural. It can’t be a business tactic, like, they think if we get this person, we automatically have it. Like, you have to actually be active in making people feel like that,” said Ralston.
Harrel said they do not think a lack of policy is negative, because the nonbinary student, meaning they do not identify as a man or woman, is aware that Tech has to follow Title IX regulations. The senior English major explained they have personally never experienced any harassment for using their assigned sex’s, or opposite sex’s, restroom. The use of “they” in this paragraph is not a mistake, but is the pronoun Harrel uses.
“The only reason I stick to ones for my assigned gender is convenience, it is easier and usually the bathroom is cleaner,” remarked Harrell.
“Discrimination based on sex or gender in educational programs or activities receiving [federal aid] is prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” states the US Department of Education’s website.
In February 2019, Tennessee Attorney General, Herbert H. Slatery III, released an opinion on the Tennessee government’s official website updating the meaning of a hate-crime to include transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
“For purposes of the hate-crime enhancement, a crime committed against a person because that person manifests a gender that is different than his or her biological gender at birth—i.e. a crime committed against a person because he or she is transgender—is thus necessarily committed because of, at least in part, the person’s gender,” clarified Slatery.
Title IX and Clery Coordinator at Tech, Gregory Holt stated simply that the university is in compliance with all laws in an email regarding the restroom policy on campus.
“Tennessee Tech follows the laws related to this topic,” said Holt.
Both Holt and Lykins stated that students needing assistance concerning these issues should contact the Dean of Students, adding that these concerns are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Put simply, with so few unisex restrooms on campus, students have to decide which multi-stall restroom will give them the least resistance, whether they feel comfortable with the situation or not.