collaboration, community, gender, sanitation, toilets

Open letter in support of all-gender restroom demand by UC Student-Worker Union

[Forgive my dearth of  Water for the Ages posts. I have been studying water and sanitation issues in a sociology program at University of California Santa Cruz. I am a teaching assistant and taking courses there. Our current student worker contract expired November 2013. One of our demands – besides calling for a living-wage, etc. – is all-gender restrooms. Below is my public letter in support of that demand. If you also support this demand, please visit this online petition.]

This letter is in support of the all-gender restroom demand by the UC Student-Worker Union. At least one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom should be installed in each UC campus building. This is a human right. This is a worker’s right.

I am second-year graduate student enrolled in the sociology program at UC Santa Cruz. I am also a Teaching Assistant for a sociology course here. I started focusing on global water and sanitation issues around five years ago in both work and research, and safe access to toilets and hygiene is a demand people around the world take seriously. Given the recent recognition of water and sanitation as a human right by the UN and also by the state of California, to say nothing of the obvious benefit to various users, this is a demand the University of California should take also seriously.

Did you know that California was the first state in the nation to designate water (for “sanitary purposes“) a human right? Governor Brown signed the historic bill in September 2012. He made this move after the ground-breaking UN resolution for an international human right to water and sanitation in July 2010. In fact, this year the UN is officially dedicating November 19th as World Toilet Day? They said “This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”

Sanitation is a question of basic dignity for people in the Global South and in the Global North. And we (UC students, faculty, staff, and visitors) are not exempt. The average adult urinates up to eight times a day and defecates up to three times a day. Still not all people in the UC system have equal access to restrooms. Families with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals often walk by restrooms thinking “is it safe to enter?”

LGBTQ individuals are especially burdened with possible harassment and bullying in gender-segregated restrooms. A 2001 San Francisco Human Rights Commission survey found “41% of transgender respondents reported direct harassment or physical violence in gender-limited public bathrooms.” The Transgender Law Center states “many transgender and non-transgender people have no safe places to go to the bathroom – get harassed, beaten, and arrested in both women’s and men’s rooms.”

Workers on campus are doubly impacted. With limited time constraints, they might not be able to leave their building to find an all-gender restroom before their section starts or during class breaks.

The UC system should follow the lead of other places providing these essential sanitation rights across North America. Portland, Oregon adopted public restroom design principles calling for all-gender and single-user facilities in public spaces when designing the Portland Loo. All-gender and single-user restrooms designed by an American Restroom Association president won awards in La Jolla, California. The University of Alberta recently converted all single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. Penn State University converted 80 single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. The majority of restrooms at New College of Florida (Sarasota Campus) are all-gender facilities. These are just a few of the many success stories.

In summary, the UC system is especially well-poised to ensure these critical sanitation rights are met for all workers (and all people) on campuses statewide per Governor Brown’s recent legislation requiring water for “sanitary purposes” for all people and the international recognition of sanitation as a human right. Workers with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals deserve a working environment that meets their sanitation needs. A minimum of one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom in each UC campus building is a both a human right and a worker’s right. I ask that you honor these rights during UAW 2865 bargaining agreements.

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