Gender-Neutral Bathrooms at SMC

Santa Monica College Computer Science major, Sylvia Manson, 19, shown at the Gender Neutral restroom in the Core Performance Center, on the SMC Main Campus in Santa Monica, Calif. , Monday March 20, 2017. Manson is a transgender woman and GSA member (The Gender Sexuality Alliance Club) who isn't comfortable using the none gender neutral restrooms. Photo by Emeline Moquillon.

We live in a time when things are rapidly changing, but Santa Monica College has kept up with the issues facing the LGBT community today. With new terms and developments on the subject, members of the community continue to learn new things. SMC is constantly making adjustments designed to help the LGBT community feel safe and welcome. A problem that the transgender community commonly faces is controversy about their use of public bathrooms. It is something that other people may not think about, or even dismiss outright. However, for many transgender students, using public restrooms continues to remain a huge dilemma. Sylvia Manson, a computer science major, is familiar with the problems of using public restrooms. Manson is a transgender woman currently in her first year at SMC. “Public bathrooms are usually avoided whenever possible," Manson said. "Even though I still look like a guy, I look like a decently feminine one, which can, at the very least, get me lots of glares in the men’s bathroom. And I'm not even going to attempt the women’s bathroom, cause there is a zero percent chance of that going well,” she said. There are currently a few gender-neutral bathrooms on SMC's main campus, two of which are located in the new Core Performance building. Luckily for Manson, living across the street from the campus means she doesn’t need to face these problems like others within the community. "Fortunately, I live close to the school, so I use the one at home," said Manson.

Many students have openly worked towards addressing these issues. Mysterie Pena, a transgender man, is a business major with plans of minoring in LGBT studies. Though only in his first year at SMC, Pena is President of SMC’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club. Its goal is to create a safe space for LGBT individuals and allies.

“I’m lucky that I can 'pass' as the guy I am most of the time," said Pena, describing how others view appearance. "But for many people who don't 'pass' as well or don't want to 'pass', with some students and teachers, it's common to misgender them. I also identify within the binary of male and female, but many of my friends don't, which makes it harder to feel comfortable using any bathroom or gendered public space," said Pena. "I think SMC has done an amazing job so far, but as we continue to progress and find out more about the trans community, we also need to be willing to change our ideas about policy and spaces.” 

Yet the bathroom problem here on campus is a minor concern to the members of GSA. Accidental discrimination in the classroom against the LGBT community leaves many transgender students feeling outcast and uncomfortable. The GSA club hopes to tackle these issues, having discussed the problem with school faculty at a workshop held in March. They also held a workshop for faculty members on the same day to teach them how to interact with LGBT students.

The GSA club also has a plan to create a gender-equality center as a hub for all students who need support, information, a place to meet others, or a safe zone. Professor Donahue of the Art History department and other faculty members have a five-year plan, but lack funds to make it happen.

GSA club vice-president Christopher Bailey feels that SMC could improve on what it has already done. “No one should have to go out of their way to do something naturally occurring like using a restroom... It's important that the LGBT community, and the community at large, be inclusive of transgender people because they, too, are human beings. They, too, should be validated."