Gender-neutral bathrooms a ‘no go’ for Missouri legislator

House Bills 1338 and 1339 would limit funding for gender-neutral environments.
Gateway Hall, which is under construction, as viewed from Responsibility Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. All bathrooms at the new residence hall will be “gender-flexible.”

Legislation has been introduced into the Missouri House that would eliminate state funding for any institution that implements a gender-neutral environment or multiuse unisex bathroom facilities.

House Bills 1338 and 1339 were introduced by Rep. Jeff Pogue, R-Salem, on March 12 and have created controversy throughout the state. Many feel that the bills are discriminatory against the LGBT community, while supporters believe they are maintaining state cultural standards.

The bills came on the heels of MU’s announcements that the Department of Residential Life would be creating gender-neutral housing in the College Avenue Residence Hall for the 2015-16 academic school year, and that the new residence hall, Gateway, would have multiuse unisex bathrooms.

“HB 1338 is not designed to be discriminatory,” Pogue said in a news release. “It is meant to protect the dignity of all citizens of Missouri and visitors to this state.”

Pogue said he feels that cultural standards remain based on the male and female sexes and not gender identification, and therefore public facilities should reflect this.

“The culture, not just of Missouri but of the United States as a society since implementation of public restrooms, has been that men (males) and women (females) have separate public restroom facilities,” he said. “HB 1338 simply states that this should continue to be the norm, and that any single-use restroom facility may be marked as unisex.”

Pogue continues on in the release to cite the support of Amnesty International, a prominent human rights advocacy group, in this type of separation.

“It should be noted that Amnesty International includes gender-segregated toilet facilities among its list of recommendations to protect the safety of girls in school,” Pogue said. “This thought can easily be expanded to restroom facilities outside of school.”

Director of ResLife Frankie Minor said MU’s decision to add gender-neutral housing and multiuse unisex bathrooms was to maintain the safety of its students.

“Residential Life’s mission statement includes providing safe, secure and inclusive living and learning communities for students,” Minor said. “Campus climate studies at MU showed that transgender students reported the highest level of harassment and intimidation of any underrepresented group on campus, and that using bathrooms was one of the most common places this occurred.”

Minor found that ResLife could implement gender-neutral housing and multiuse unisex bathrooms due to recent developments in residence halls.

“While ResLife had been exploring the feasibility of gender-neutral housing at MU as an additional option for many years, the joint resolution by student governments at MU (2011) and the addition of ‘gender identity and gender expression’ to the MU non-discrimination statement (2014), along with the design of a new residence hall (Gateway), allowed a feasible strategy to be developed and implemented,” Minor said.

The addition of this housing fills a need that Minor said he has been handling for years.

“Residential Life has been accommodating students who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming on an individual basis for many years,” Minor said. “Gender-neutral housing and/or unisex restrooms will provide additional options for these and other students who desire this type of accommodation.”

Minor also detailed how gender-neutral housing will meet the needs of students beyond the LGBT community as well.

“We have received requests in the past from siblings, other relatives or even close friends of different genders/sexes who wanted to live together on campus,” Minor said.

Minor also said despite this bill’s threat of removing funding, it could not be applied to MU because ResLife does not use state funds.

“Residential Life does not receive any institutional or state funding,” Minor said. “We are a self-supporting, auxiliary operation with over 90 percent of our revenue coming from room rates paid by students. The remaining revenue comes from other sources such as summer camps/conferences, vending, contract processing fees, etc.”

The MU LGBTQ Resource Center would not comment on the legislation, as it is pending.

Pogue said the aim of these bill is to create consistency for citizens by developing a statewide standard.

“I believe that if the state of Missouri were to change a social norm of this magnitude, it should be held consistent across the state, and the General Assembly should be the only and sole part of government to make this call — either by enacting a law or drafting a resolution to go before the taxpaying voters to decide,” Pogue said. “This issue should be a state standard, not a mystery to privacy rights, business rights, freedom or security.”

Kyle Piccola, Senior Field Organizer for PROMO, a Kansas City region Missouri organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, feels that the legislation is part of a growing trend of anti-LGBT bills across the country.

“Unfortunately, there is a trend across the country of anti-LGBT bills being introduced,” Piccola said. “Missouri alone has eight, and Texas has the most with 20. As the LGBT community garners more and more support for issues, such as employment protections and relationship recognition, some legislators feel the need to try and stall that progress.”

However, Piccola said he feels that Pogue’s bills will not make it very far through the General Assembly.

“Typically, bills that are introduced so late in session are not a priority and generally do not make it very far,” Piccola said. “PROMO will be monitoring these bills to make sure they don't see movement.”

Piccola said he believes the bills will harm the entire community, not just the transgender individuals they target.

“Everyone, including gay and transgender people, cares about privacy and safety in the bathroom,” he said. “The facts prove that nondiscrimination protections drive down public safety concerns. Allowing all people to use the appropriate bathroom is the safest public policy position. There are 14 cities in Missouri and hundreds in the country that have these protections and there has not been one negative experience.”

Piccola also said gender-neutral facilities allow parents more access to care for their children.

“Gender-neutral facilities have a lot of benefits to the community,” Piccola said. “A lot of times there are not changing stations in the men’s restroom, so it's hard for a dad to change a diaper. Family restrooms are gender-neutral, and any parent will tell you how beneficial those are,” he said.

Piccola said he is disappointed by Pogue’s legislation.

“The nature of the language is in line with attacks we see on the transgender community,” Piccola said. “It is certainly disheartening to see those sentiments and attacks pop up in the Missouri legislature.”

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