“Let’s just make it a restroom”, Z McCarron (they/them pronouns) says to the engaged crowd while speaking at the Translating Identity conference hosted by The University of Vermont’s Free2Be Club annually. Taking place on the third floor of the Davis Center, the conference hosts a variety of groups, workshops and talks over the course of the day. The crowd snaps with agreement as McCarron continues with the speech. With a talk entitled, “Advancing the Rights of Queer and Trans Students During the Era of Bathroom Bills”, McCarron is starting a conversation centered around activism that they are working towards on the Burlington based campus and beyond.
Their Tinder bio reads, “I wear socks with my sandals.” as well as “Don’t feed me hummus or capitalist propaganda.” With a few images of McCarron smiling and at ease. Just a typical Tinder bio of an undergraduate student. Z McCarron, attends The University of Vermont and is working towards a degree in biological studies. They identify as non-binary and gender-fluid. Their goal throughout the talk was to create an open space in which everyone was welcome to do what they need to do to be comfortable.
In the spring of 2016, Justice for Queer and Trans Students (QTS or cuties), a club on UVM campus, worked to expand gender-neutral bathrooms. It was brought to the attention of Z McCarron that the Bailey-Howe library did not have a single gender inclusive bathroom. “It’s not just about bathrooms, it is about having access to all spaces,”, Z said while beginning to approach this part of their talk and continued with, “When it comes down to it, it is all about inclusion.”
The “Bathroom Ban” idea began when the state of North Carolina passed the HB2 bill on April 25th, 2016. The Hb2 Bill essentially says, everyone must use the bathroom that matches the sex that they were assigned to on their birth certificate. There was immediate negative push back from schools, celebrities, parents and people all over the country. But in reality, it resulted in the uptick in legislation being made around bathrooms in other states such as, Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas, and Illinois. Whether they were previously considering “bathroom bans” or were just encouraged by North Carolina, new legislator followed.
Gender specific bathrooms have been around for over 100 years. Ever since the Victorian era when woman began entering society as more than just the child bearers and child raisers, bathrooms have been gender specific. Even the signs are gender specific. With the males being portrayed in pants and females in dresses and skirts. The image of a person is unnecessary when creating a sign for a bathroom because it is clear that only people use bathrooms.
At The University of Vermont in 2003, a graduate student set out to turn all of the single stall bathrooms across campus into gender-neutral restrooms. Which was the beginning of the fight on campus. That is where Z McCarron comes in as a leader in supporting gender-neutral people and restrooms across the campus. McCarron noticed a lack of policy for inclusive restrooms and set out to take action.
After approaching different people around campus to make a change, Z and a large group of students stormed the office of President Tom Sullivan as well as those in charge of Bailey-Howe Library. Z had the idea to present their demands on a roll of toilet paper, “When you are trying to get people to organize and work together you have to make it fun. And what’s more fun than handing a person in power a roll of toilet paper with your demands?”
Creating an inclusive bathroom model was one of the first steps Z made to help push the demands forward. McCarron calls it a “multi-stall model”, which aims to be inclusive to all, not just gender non-conforming people but also those with disabilities. The multi-stall model also aims at normalizing interactions of genders and creating a shared space. The model has a variety of different aspects such as, urinals, stalls, menstrual products and foot pedals for easy access.
A big issue that Z came across when working on this was cost. The school is of course unwilling to add a bigger burden as they are already taking on in terms of things like water and space usage. But if every single gender bathroom was turned into multi-stall restrooms then space would not be an issue and water usage would remain the same.
The sign used to indicate a gender-neutral bathroom was also something that Z took into account and worked to create one that is inclusive to all. McCarron stated, “We need to take gender out of restrooms in order to make them gender inclusive.” In order to do that with the signs Z decided to use toilets in place of people, they added, “I even went as far to get a tattoo of a toilet on my leg!”
Even after the battle with Bailey-Howe for gender inclusive restrooms across campus, Z is not done quite yet. Furthermore, an employee at Bailey-Howe Library pushed the issue to Vermont legislator, as they are a representative and a bill is currently in the housing waiting to be approved. According to Vermont General Assembly online, The H.333 bill says, “An act relating to identification of gender-free restrooms in public buildings and places of public accommodation (Colburn, 2017).” Back in the Davis Center, Z proudly exclaims, “From little UVM library to state legislator, we haven’t stopped!”, as the crowd claps with astonishment and pride.
Z is working tirelessly to close the gap of exclusion before they graduate in May. McCarron understands the need for such work and the pace in which it needs to be done. “Our needs need to be prioritized and met now. This is not something that can wait.”
There is always more to be done, and others around campus are working on expanding gender neutral bathrooms and housing across campus as well. When Z opened the floor to questions and comments a Vermont liaison to state said, “Everyone benefits from this, handicap and gender-neutral folks as well. We all benefit.”