Southeast Missouri State University offers gender-neutral bathrooms

FILE - This Thursday, May 12, 2016, file photo, shows signage outside a restroom at 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C. North Carolina is in a legal battle over a state law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate.

FILE - This Thursday, May 12, 2016, file photo, shows signage outside a restroom at 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C. North Carolina is in a legal battle over a state law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate. AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — Southeast Missouri State University has started offering gender-neutral bathrooms in what gay rights leaders are hoping is the first of several changes around campus.

The LGBT Advisory Board and the LGBT Advocacy Committee came up with a plan to create 35 of the restrooms for about $60 to $70 each, The Southeast Missourian reported.

“It’s as easy as just changing the sign on the door,” said Eric Mahnken, former president of PRIDE and member of the LGBT Advisory Board, adding that many other universities already offer gender-neutral bathrooms.

Rylan Flesch, a transgender student at the university, said the restroom change is “progress,” adding that it “shows that the university cares.”

Gender-neutral bathrooms can be used by more than students who don’t feel comfortable in gender-conforming bathrooms. Parents who have a child of the opposite sex may feel more comfortable in these facilities, as well as people who require attendants for living assistance.

The LGBT Advisory Board hopes the bathroom effort will open doors for future changes around campus. One of its more recent projects is trying to get preferred names on student IDs and class rosters rather than using certain students’ birth names.

“I go through the lunch lines or any place where staff needs to check my ID, and they misgender me,” Flesch said. “It’s the crappiest thing to go through.”

Mahnken said the initial steps toward allowing preferred names on student IDs were positive; however, in the state of Missouri, student IDs are considered identification for voting, which requires the legal name. The project is still in progress.

Another potential change for the future is gender-neutral housing, which Mahnken and Flesch said is their next big project.

“I’m hoping in the future to see more steps in the right direction,” Mahnken said.

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