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Northwestern opens first gender-neutral, multi-stall bathroom

Northwestern University has opened the first multi-stall, gender-neutral bathroom on a college campus in Chicago. | Getty Images

Northwestern University has opened the first gender-neutral, multi-stall bathroom on a college campus in Chicago, school officials announced on Tuesday.

Other schools in the city have offered single-stall bathrooms for people to use that correspond with their gender identity, but a multi-stall bathroom is “an important next step,” said Francesca Gaiba, associate director of Northwestern’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

“Ultimately, our society needs to move toward gender-neutral bathrooms,” Gaiba said. “We want to remove barriers to reduce harassment and threats of violence against the gender non-conforming community.”

University officials gave the institute permission to open the multi-stall bathroom when they moved into their new office at 625 N. Michigan Ave. a couple of months ago. It sits alongside a multi-stall, female-only restroom and a single-stall gender-neutral bathroom.

“We decided to push for this to be at the forefront, and show that it is possible and feasible. We want to be an inspiration to other schools and institutions,” Gaiba said.

About 70 faculty and staff members have access to the bathroom, and while classes aren’t taught there, students can be let in as guests. Northwestern joins about 150 colleges nationwide with gender-neutral, multi-stall bathrooms.

Gaiba said she understands the apprehension that some have over people of different sexes using the same restroom. She said she was “taken aback” the first time she walked into a bathroom to find a man washing his hands.

“But it took me about two seconds to get over,” she said.

Gender-neutral bathrooms have spurred debate across the country. A northwest suburban high school gained national attention for letting a transgender student use the girls’ locker room, over the objection of parents who said it violated their children’s privacy.

Last year, Chicago Public Schools outlined a policy of letting students use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. City officials also tweaked a human rights ordinance to prevent hotels and restaurants from discriminating against transgender patrons.