A group of Yale Law School students that initially advocated for more gender-neutral bathrooms in the Sterling Law Building brought their cause to the state level last month.
When the CT Codes and Standards Committee solicited feedback from the public last month as a part of its regular practice, OutLaws — an association of LGBTQ students at the Law School — convinced more than 25 organizations in the state to support their proposed amendments to the Connecticut Plumbing Code. The code sets a numerical standard for single-sex bathrooms fixtures in a building, which the group described as a hindrance to its call for adding gender-neutral bathrooms at the Law School and for making facilities more accessible to all genders in communities beyond Yale.
The proposed amendments include clauses to count gender-neutral bathrooms towards the total number of fixtures required. The group made the move after the state building inspector repeatedly denied the University’s request for a waiver exempting the Law School from the fixtures regulations. The committee will respond to the proposal by July.
“This feels important to me because it’s so basic — we want to use the bathroom in peace, without worrying about being late or running far afield just to pee,” said Rachel Luban LAW ’18, a member of OutLaws.
According to several law students involved in the initiative, most of the existing gender-neutral bathrooms in the law building are positioned too “out-of-the-way” to accommodate short breaks between classes, and there is always a line for the one centrally-located single-stall bathroom. Elise Wander LAW ’19, another member of OutLaws, said the waiting time will be longer in the near future because she expects the Law School student body to be more diverse each year.
When OutLaws communicated their concerns with Law School administrators, they learned that the school was right at the baseline of the fixtures required by the state building code, which means that converting any male or female bathroom to a gender-neutral one would put the Law School in jeopardy of violating state regulations. With support from Law School Dean Robert Post LAW ’77 and Associate Dean Ellen Cosgrove, the students collaborated with Yale’s Office of General Counsel to request a waiver on behalf of the Law School in December.
In the same month, the state building inspector denied the request on the grounds that the Law School could install more gender-neutral bathrooms while keeping all the gender-specific ones. Maya Menlo LAW ’18, a member of OutLaws, said facilities in the Law School are old and that she saw no willingness from the school to build more bathrooms.
The group of students then filed an appeal and went to a hearing, but were rejected again on March 8. Facing continuous setbacks, they decided to take the campaign to the state level. Wander said the group went through several drafts to craft the most effective language and anticipate any concern the CT Codes and Standards Committee might have before disseminating the final draft to local organizations.
The organizations that submitted individual comments in support of the Law School group to the Codes and Standards Committee include Connecticut Voices for Children, A Better Balance, The Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and Yale’s Office of LGBTQ Resources. Kate Redburn LAW ’18, a member of OutLaws, said the diversity of the organizations represents the different communities affected by the bathroom issues, including not only transgender and gender-nonconforming people, but parents, caregivers, seniors and people with disabilities.
“This is how social justice works,” Director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources Maria Trumpler GRD ’92 said. “You start with your own small space, then all of a sudden you are working at the state level.”
Luban said the group’s move to the state level represents a grander cause than personal motivation to convert a set of multi-stall bathrooms in the law building to gender-neutral ones.
Luban added that other communities in Connecticut should not have to undergo the onerous process of requesting a waiver if they decide to make their bathrooms more accessible.
For Menlo, the transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the broader Connecticut community are more afraid to use bathrooms than law students, whose colleagues Menlo said are “respectful enough to let that go.”
Arash Ghiassi LAW ’18, a member of OutLaws, said that in a time when LGBTQ people are facing escalated hatred and oppression, it is essential for a progressive state like Connecticut to send a powerful message by standing up for its LGBTQ residents.
“Connecticut has a real opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives by rejecting the bigoted hysteria around bathrooms that we see around the country,” Ghiassi said.
According to Luban, the benefits of gender-neutral bathrooms extend beyond the LGBTQ community, adding that arguments of sex stereotypes and a presumption of heterosexuality in support of gender-specific bathrooms have made her uncomfortable to use the female bathroom in the past.
“Although this doesn’t happen much anymore, I’ve been told I was in the wrong bathroom before, which makes it hard to feel like there’s a right bathroom,” Luban said. “The right bathroom for me is one where people aren’t scrutinizing my gender.”
Trumpler, who has been advocating for an increase in the number of gender-neutral bathrooms in Yale buildings for over a decade, said law students are well-trained to tackle the “arcane and detailed legal matter” of amending a state legislature.
She added that tackling the issue from a legislative approach is in line with law students’ professional training.
According to Trumpler, the building code is expected to change by 2020 to include gender-neutral bathrooms as fixtures, which will give the University free rein to relabel the existent single-gender bathrooms.
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