University of Washington
Earlier this week on The Daily Weekly we reported on the controversy brewing at The Evergreen State College in Olympia centering on a transgender student's use of the female locker room at the college's recreation center. Colleen Francis was born a man, but has been living as a female since 2009 - and uses the female locker room and sauna based on her current gender identity. Evergreen says this is her right under state RCW 49.60.040, and the school's policy of allowing transgender students to use the gender-specific locker room that they identify with is in accordance with this. An Arizona-based religious group, Alliance Defending Freedom, has vehemently criticized the policy, saying it puts young girls at risk.
University of Washington
Considering the fact Evergreen's policy is based on a state law but similar controversies haven't erupted elsewhere, it seemed worth asking: Does the University of Washington have a similar policy regarding transgender use of locker room?
Emerson Sekins, the Assistant Coordinator of the UW's Q Center - an advocacy group supporting queer students on campus - says that while a controversy similar to Evergreen's has never taken place at UW, currently the issue of transgender locker room use "kind of remains unclear," at the school.
"It's kind of a case-by-case basis," says Sekins, noting that most transgender students choose to avoid the situation all together. "Honestly, we don't really make individual determinations."
Sekins says the reluctance to use gender-specific locker rooms by transgender students comes down to safety, privacy and acceptance.
"In my estimation, I really don't know a lot of transgender students interested in using a locker room they don't identify with," Sekins says.
According to John Pariseau, Director of Recreational Sports Programs at the UW, the university is making strides to protect the civil rights of transgender students when it comes to locker room usage. That's one of the main reasons the school is in the process of constructing a "universal shower-dressing room" which will soon be open for use by transgender students and others, and is intended to provide the same privacy afforded to students who use traditional male and female facilities. Pariseau says he coordinated the construction of the new single-occupancy shower-locker room facility with the UW's Q Center.
"It's a shower-dressing facility, and it's going to be located right next to our swimming pool, which is really good, so there'll be access there. We'll have some lockers, just like we would in either one of our men's or women's locker rooms, so it'll provide the same kind of service," says Pariseau. "I've worked with the Q Center here on campus, with all the signage and that sort of stuff, to really make it accessible for these folks."
While Pariseau says the new universal shower-dressing isn't being built specifically because of the state law barring discrimination against transgender students based on gender identity, it is being built to address the concerns addressed by the law.
"The origins actually are with me, if you like, because of just the changing times and the recognition of these folks, and to try to accommodate them," says Pariseau. "On occasion over the last few years we've had inquiries, so a couple years ago - it takes time to do all this stuff - I said, 'Look, I think we need to do something here, to really make this place truly accessible, because we have these different folks that really have some different needs.' ... So I went down the road and tried to find a way to solve a concern."
"It was not in direct response to the law, it's just part of our DNA out here to try to serve people of all backgrounds and experiences in the best way we know how, equally," he continues. "That's it. It's common sense."
At Evergreen the school has reacted to the state law against transgender discrimination by allowing transgender students to utilize the locker room facilities associated with the gender they identify with. At UW, however, the response - as illustrated by the construction of the school's new universal locker room facilities - has been more geared toward providing privacy and separate-but-equal accommodations.
"It's just in the last several years that these kinds of things have been coming up, and so then you try to respond to them and say, 'Look, we ought to get ahead of the curve here. We ought to do something.' If you were going to design facilities like I sit in to this day you'd design [transgender accommodations] in, but 30 to 40 years ago you didn't," says Pariseau. "What you talk about is equal access, in all of these situations, in my view. That's where I come from in this situation."
"I think we're trying to do the best thing that we know how to do," he continues. "In my view, at least, [the new universal locker room facility] gives you the same kinds of things that you would have in regular locker room."
When it comes to bathroom and locker room usage, Sekins says the university has been proactive in attempting to meet the needs of many different communities - transgender students included.
"With regards to facility access, the UW has been really responsive," says Sekins. "[The new universal locker room facility] is going to be amazingly helpful."
Pariseau says he expects UW's new universal locker room to be open by the first of the year.