Shortly before spring break, the gender-neutral sign on a single-stall restroom in Eliot House was vandalized. On Facebook, an Eliot House resident posted on an image of the sign, which had been torn to reveal the word “men” painted in black underneath. This incident precipitated outrage online and a response from Eliot Faculty Dean Gail O’Keefe, who emailed Eliot House residents saying the administration would investigate and that vandalism would not be tolerated.
Led by Adams House, some Houses began replacing gender-specific restrooms with gender-neutral ones in early September. According to the Adams House resident dean, the restrooms were explicitly labeled gender-neutral to make them “actively welcoming” for people of all gender identities. The gender-neutral restroom in Eliot was also explicitly labeled as gender-neutral.
The vandalism of the gender-neutral restroom in Eliot is indicative of systemic transphobia on Harvard campus. The destruction of a gender-neutral sign was the symbolic reclamation of an exclusive space that had been made more inclusive and accessible. We are disturbed by this act, and we are disappointed that the administration has not responded publicly. The email from O’Keefe was only sent to Eliot House residents. A message from the administration should be sent to the entire College. It is imperative that administrators voice their support for queer and transgender students and reaffirm the College’s commitment to expanding gender-neutral restrooms as essential for the safety of marginalized community members.
The need for gender-neutral restrooms is profound, and their expansion is long overdue. Gender-neutral restrooms are critical for the safety and well-being of BGLTQ students, and it is vital that they are installed more widely throughout campus. While it is commendable that some of the Houses have started to implement gender-neutral restrooms, single-gender bathrooms are the majority, especially in residential buildings. The process by which students can petition for gender-neutral restrooms in their dorms remains inconsistent and opaque. Additionally, very few gender-neutral restrooms exist in academic buildings.
The administration should standardize the procedure to proliferate the number of gender-neutral restrooms on campus, and they should also make the introduction of gender-neutral restrooms a top priority in House renovations. Harvard can also make progress immediately. There is no compelling reason for single-stall bathrooms to be gender-specific. The administration should make all single-stall bathrooms gender-neutral and in this way provide safer and more inclusive spaces for all of its students.
It is of the utmost importance that Harvard treat students of all genders with equal respect. Indeed, the Department of Justice has ruled that preventing transgender persons from using bathrooms that aligns with their gender identity constitutes discrimination. Using the restroom is a basic necessity, and access to safe restroom facilities is essential to upholding all students’ dignity. The administration must reject the transphobia so evident in the incident at Eliot House and deliver BGTLQ students the safety they need and deserve.