All fall semester, Ashleigh Richter shared a bathroom with men. And she was fine with it.
When Richter arrived at Warren Wilson College in Asheville in August for her first year of college, she chose a residence hall floor with a gender-neutral restroom. Growing up in Mt. Orab, Ohio, she’d never seen one before, but “I never ever once had an issue with it,” she says. “It felt very normal.”
The image of men in women’s bathrooms is a potent force in U.S. politics. In the 1970s, the specter of unisex restrooms helped sink the Equal Rights Amendment, with anti-ERA forces using the image to “conjure up visions of rape by predatory males,” Jane Mansbridge writes in her book, “Why We Lost the ERA.”
House Bill 2 supporters have raised these same fears. They say allowing transgender people to choose their restroom will open the door to predatory men in women’s bathrooms.
But unisex restrooms do exist these days. You find them on some college campuses, mostly offered as a choice along with traditional restrooms. At least four N.C. schools have them – Duke University, Davidson College, Guilford College in Greensboro and Warren Wilson, which Princeton Review ranks second nationally as LGBTQ friendly.
Richter’s bathroom in Sunderland Residence Hall had individual toilet stalls and individual showers with curtains. It didn’t have urinals. Richter, a member of the women’s soccer team, usually showered in the evenings, after practice, taking a towel and changing into pajamas in her shower space before heading to her room. Often, the men’s soccer team had also finished practice, so “I ended up showering next to a guy.”
When Richter became a resident adviser this semester, she moved to another residence hall with a women’s bathroom. But next year, she’ll be back in Sunderland and using the gender-neutral bathroom again. “At the end of the day,” she says, “it’s just showering and going to the bathroom.”
Pam Kelley: 704-358-5271