KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Gender-inclusive or gender-neutral housing can allow transgender people to feel more comfortable and safe.
Gender-inclusive housing allows two people of opposite genders to live in the same room. This allows people of the same gender-identity to reside together.
Gender-inclusive housing options are becoming more available at U.S. universities.
Samantha Masters, Youth and Campus Engagement Manager with the Human Rights Campaign, said one affirming cultural practice is the creation of gender-neutral housing facilities.
“Gender-neutral housing provides, one, a space to be safe and have their gender affirmed, but it also allows them to experience college like any other student,” Masters said.
Not all openly transgender people have felt safe in a school environment.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported 75 percent of respondents who expressed transgender identity or gender non-conformity in grades K-12 said they were harassed at school. Thirty-five percent reported they were physically assaulted, and another 12 percent said they were sexually assaulted.
Masters said transgender people face barriers, and cultural competency that helps promote a space of learning and affirmation to the student is incredibly helpful in future endeavors.
“Students know they are safe and welcome. And it also provides an institutional understanding and awareness that transgender and gender-queer people matter,” Masters said. “They matter to our society and to our country.”
Gender-inclusive housing in higher education
The Human Rights Campaign provides a list of colleges with gender-inclusive housing options.
The Kansas City Art Institute is one of those institutions. It will start its fifth year of gender-inclusive housing at the start of the Fall 2014 semester.
Campus Activities and Housing Coordinator Madeline Gallucci said gender-inclusive housing was a student-driven initiative.
“We have an active campus organization, QUILTTBAGAPP. They brought these issues our attention. The administration moved forward because it was such a popular idea,” Gallucci said.
One floor of KCAI’s housing is devoted to being gender-inclusive. Rooms on a co-ed floor are designated for gender-inclusive housing. Only students that request gender-inclusive assignments receive them.
Gallucci said all RAs go through gender sensitivity training, but the administration look for individuals with particular interest or knowledge about transgender people to be RAs on the floor.
She also said she feels some schools may offer gender-inclusive housing because they are smaller in size, allowing more student voices to be heard.
“I feel a lot of campus groups are active in that sense, but I feel like our school is small, and art school campuses are smaller. The student voice is a bit stronger because they don’t have to go through as many steps up the chain of command,” Gallucci said. “A student can talk to me. I can immediately go to the dean and take that action. It’s not like we have a ton of hoops.”
Gallucci said there has been a steady increase in the number of students who request gender-inclusive housing each year.
Some schools may not have a gender-inclusive policy, but they will work with transgender or gender nonconforming students to find the right housing situation.
Eric Grospitch, the Dean of Students at UMKC, said the school doesn’t have a gender-inclusive policy, but it works with students on an individual case-by-case basis.
NEXT: How do other large area schools handle gender-inclusive housing?
Future plans for gender-inclusive housing
Other school administrations are keeping gender-inclusivity in mind as they plan future on-campus housing.
Nick Lander, the Assistant Director for Residence Life at Kansas State University, said K-State’s new residence hall will be more gender-inclusive.
“We’re planning it to be a more integrated community where students of any gender could live in the same wing,” Lander said. “It will have a community style bathroom, but each bathroom unit is for individual use. Any person could use that bathroom. At that point, it’s inclusive of any gender identity.”
The school just started construction on the new residence hall. It will be open to students in Fall 2016.
The University of Missouri has worked with students individually for years with students who identify as transgender.
Director of Residential Life Frankie Minor said a new residence hall under construction will be more gender-inclusive. The hall will be community style, but the bathrooms are designed to be gender flexible.
“The challenges we’ve faced in the past is that our facilities were designed with one gender in mind,” Minor said.
The new residence hall will have common sinks, but when students wish to use the toilet or shower they will go into a completely closed room with a door.
MU has proposed a gender-neutral community, but they have not received approval yet. Minor said he is hopeful after the UM Board of Curators approved adding gender identity and gender expression to the system’s non-discrimination policy in June.
Minor also said it’s not just private institutions that are providing gender-inclusive housing.
“Increasingly, there are more institutions that are working to accommodate transgender or gender nonconforming students. It’s increasingly the large, public institutions as well.”
Minor also said transgender students represent a small amount of the population on campus, but they are the most intimidated and harassed.
“We want people to feel safe and secure in our communities, no matter their background, gender identity or expression,” Minor said.
A larger issue than campus housing
Gender-inclusive housing isn’t just a college campus issue.
Masters said low income housing options or housing options for homeless are segregated and create barriers for transgender people.
Hayden Mora, the Director of Communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said even if transgender people go to shelters they don’t feel comfortable because shelters and other state services can’t accommodate them. The places are set up on a binary gender system.
According to the survey, among respondents who accessed a shelter, 55 percent reported being harassed by residents or staff members of shelters. Forty-two percent reported they were forced to live as the wrong gender to be allowed to stay at the shelter. The survey reported this could range from “being required to alter a hairstyle or make-up to radically altering gender presentation from head to toe.”
Mora said the HRC has worked with the DC Crisis Center in Washington D.C. to create affirming and safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. Its work has helped the D. C. Trans Coalition to change shelter structure so transgender women aren’t turned away.
“Transgender and gender-queer individuals are given the message over and over again from a very early age that there’s something wrong with them,” Mora said. “Providing housing options that acknowledge and appreciate diversity sends a strong message that transgender and gender-queer individuals aren’t invisible and are welcome here.”