If you’ve visited the new George Street Fitness Center, you may have noticed several new features of the 15,000 square foot facility. All of the machines work, and the men’s and women’s locker rooms have separate changing areas, and, unlike Stern Fitness Center, which had only one bathroom, there are separate toilets for men and women. If you visit the new gym and use one of these facilities, you might pass right by the single-toilet near the women’s bathroom. It is labeled “Unisex” and stands out, separate from the other locker rooms. This is one of several gender neutral bathrooms on campus, which has surprised some students. A Google map online marks each bathroom’s location, but there existence is not common knowledge. Susan Payment, Director of Student Life at the College, discussed the incorporation of gender neutral bathrooms in existing campus structures, saying, “I know there is one in Addlestone somewhere.” Her inability to name locations is not unusual but reflects that these restrooms are not common knowledge.
In addition to not being common knowledge, gender neutral bathrooms are often uncommon considerations. According to Payment, when Rita Hollings Science Center’s initial renovation plans were drawn, gender neutral bathrooms were not included on the blueprints. “[The designers] were not thinking about it. It wasn’t at the forefront of consideration when looking at new facilities.” For some students, this is also true. Kristi Brian, Director of Diversity Education and Training in the Office of Institutional Diversity, said many students do not actively participate in gender equality. She said gender equality is not on their minds because “people feel if they don’t seem to represent diversity, they shouldn’t be a part of the program. This is a thing for everyone.”
Alphabet Soup: Letters for Everyone
Many faculty and staff members have taken to the idea that respecting diversity is the responsibility of all by participating in the College’s Safe Zone training, which serves as a safe place to discuss LGBTQQAAIP issues on campus and creates allies for LGBTQQAAIP students through education. David Michener, Associate Director of the Multicultural Student Programs and Services and Chair of the Safe Zone Steering Committee, said that Safe Zone training is similar to taking a life class. “You learn how to talk to someone respectfully,” he said. The College’s Safe Zone chapter was founded in 2005 but fell into a period of inactivity until 2010 when representatives from Safe Zones at Clemson and the University of South Carolina were brought on to train College of Charleston Safe Zone members. Since then, the program has grown from 278 trained allies to 400, and the College has trained other local institutions such as MUSC, The Citadel and Midlands Technical College. Tom Holcomb, ROAR Scholar Director, part of the Safe Zone Steering Committee and an openly gay man, and Michener both feel the College is making strides toward becoming more accepting, but Charleston is not always as accommodating. Holcomb said, “The College is really taking some leaps and bounds… [and] Charleston has come a long way in terms of respect.” Michener said, “We’re definitely above everyone else in the state… more gay friendly, but we are behind the rest of the nation, especially the West Coast.”
Would the kind of social equality and pride seen on the West Coast be possible at a school in the Deep South? Lara Pena, Office Manager in the Office of Student Affairs, recalled her time at a western liberal arts college and contrasted the attitude of change at her undergraduate institution with the culture she sees through her interaction with students at the College. Here, Pena said, students do not take issue with gender violence or harassment “unless they are in the line of fire.” Students do not take as much public responsibility for one another, “or follow the unwritten rules” that come with being part of the shared community.
She said, “Diversity affects everyone, and in order to change something you need to be uncomfortable.” Looking at those who have participated in Safe Zone training reflects many students’ attitude of “slactivism.” While Safe Zone has 400 allies, many of those are faculty and staff members, rather than straight students, which contributes to what Jessica Dugan, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance refers to as the “surface acceptance” of LGBTQQAAIP students at the College. “We see so many faculty… [but] few students,” Dugan said. “A lot of [GSA members] see campus as already accepting… [but few students] are moved to take a stand. There are still people who aren’t comfortable expressing their gender identity.”
Times of Change
Last month, a number of local transgender activists came to speak at the Spirit Day rally at the College, including a keynote by Netflix Series “Orange is the New Black” star, Laverne Cox. “This would not have been possible in 2004,” Payment said, when asked about how our campus has changed to become more inclusive. While Payment believes having a transgendered woman like Cox come to speak is significant, Payment also feels there is a need to bring activists like Judy Shepard to speak across the nation. Shepard lost her son Matthew in 1998 as the result of a hate crime because he was gay. Shepard said there has been “a wild proliferation of hate crimes in this country” since 2008 and harassment of gender non-conforming individuals make up a great part of this. Cox spoke about her experience with cat-calls and passersby on the streets of New York City trying to guess what gender she was. Brian said, “I believe there is still a lot of transphobia on our campus. If you see a trans person and you’re uncomfortable, this applies to you.” Dugan also spoke to this saying, “One of the biggest problems on campus is restroom harassment… people saying, ‘Hey, you don’t belong here.’”
The George Street Fitness Center is an example of how construction creates opportunity for equality. Dugan sees further opportunity for inclusion by rebuilding Rutledge Rivers as a gender neutral dormitory. “It may never be we have a large percentage of gender nonconforming housing,” she said, but, “we aren’t asking for a new building,” downtown where space is notoriously scarce.
Although it is yet unknown whether or not gender neutral housing will come to fruition, current initiatives to promote LGBTQQAAIP awareness offer hope for gender non-conforming students. “The community members are valued,” Susan Payment said. “There are proactive responses to suggestions and needs that have been identified. People listen.”
Know the Letters: LGBTQQAAIP. College of Charleston’s Safe Zone Training outlines the LGBT terminology.
L-Lesbian: refers to women who are physically, emotionally, sexually, and relationally attracted to other woen.
G-Gay: Usually refers to men who have romantic and/or sexual feelings, attractions, and/or relationships with other men, but some women may also identify as gay.
B-Bisexual: Refers to persons who are physically, emotionally, sexually, and relationally attracted to either sex.
T- Transgender: An umbrella term for individuals who blur the lines of traditional gender expression. Transgender individuals recognize the social construct of their genders and thus do not fit neatly within societally-prescribed gender roles as determined by biological sex.
Q-Queer: Originally used as a perjorative term to refer to gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, the term had been reclaimed for modern usage to describe someone who does not subscribe to social norms.
Q-Questioning: The process of considering or exploring one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
A- Ally: Someone who is a friend, advocate, and/or activist for LGBTQQAAIP community. A heterosexual ally is also someone who confronts heterosexism in themselves and others.
A-Asexual: A sexual orientation generally characterized by not feeling sexual attraction or a desire for partnered sexuality. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy.
I-Intersex: People who naturally develop primary and/or secondary sex characteristics that do not fit neatly into society’s definitions of male or female. This term has replaced “hermaphrodite”, which is outdated and generally offensive, since it means “having both sexes” and this is not necessarily true, as there are at least 16 different ways to be intersex.
P-Pansexual: Also known as Omnisexual and Pomosexual, these terms are sometimes substituted for bisexual that rather than referring to both- attraction to both genders, staying within the gender binary- these terms refer to all. These terms are used mainly by those who wish to express acceptance of all gender possibilities including transgender and intersex people.
In addition, the following terms are commonly used when referring to LGBTQQAAIP topics, especially in news media.
Gender Neutral: A term used to describe facilities that any individual can use regardless of their gender. This term can also be used to describe an individual who does not subscribe to any socially constructed gender.
Heterosexism: The societal/cultural, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that privilege heterosexuals and subordinate and denigrate LGBTQ people. What differentiates heterosexism from prejudice and discrimination is the use of institutional power and authority to support prejudices and enforce discriminatory behaviors.
Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act: Passed on Oct. 22, 2009, and signed into law by President Obama on Oct. 28, 2009, as a rider to the national Defense Authorization Act for 2010. Both Shepard and Byrd were killed in hate crimes, Shepard because of his sexual orientation, and Byrd by his race.
Straight: A pop-culture term used to refer to individuals who identify as a heterosexual, the term “straight” often has a negative connotation within the LGBTQQAAIP community because it suggests that non-heterosexual individuals are “crooked” or “unnatural”.