Penn State Wilkes-Barre introduces gender-neutral bathrooms

The Nesbitt Library converts two single-stall restrooms
A partially open door to a single-stall bathroom with a sign stating "All Gender Restroom"

Penn State Wilkes-Barre's Nesbitt Library has converted two single-stall bathrooms to gender-neutral restrooms.

Credit: Jackie Warnick-Piatt

LEHMAN, Pa. — Penn State Wilkes‑Barre’s Nesbitt Library, as part of a University-wide initiative, has updated its two formerly single-stall, gender‑specific restrooms (women and men) to two gender-neutral restrooms.

For the majority of the population using a public restroom is a simple and mundane process. You locate, you enter, you use, you continue with your day. But for the 1.4 million adults in this country who are transgender or gender variant, this is not the case.

For these individuals, using a public restroom can be, at the very least, a heart-pounding, somewhat degrading, and calculated choice — one that is hopefully over with as soon as possible. In the worst cases, 12% of those who are transgender, gender variant, or just don’t look male or female enough, have experienced verbal harassment, physical violence, and even sexual assault when using a restroom.

The fear of what might happen, for a simple call of nature, causes over half of these individuals not to use public restrooms at all. This often compels them to abstain from eating or drinking while out in public. In addition, urinary tract infections and other medical issues can arise from delaying using the restroom for too long and too often.

Acting Head Librarian Megan Mac Gregor felt it was appropriate for the library to have gender-neutral restrooms.

“Libraries have a long history of promoting equality and neutrality. We have always striven to provide access to information regardless of a person’s background, economic status, etc., so why not provide equal access to restrooms?” she said.

The new gender‑neutral restrooms provide a comfortable and safe option for all members of the Penn State Wilkes‑Barre community. For example, anyone can utilize the next available restroom rather than having to wait while one sits unoccupied.

Mac Gregor and Jackie Warnick‑Piatt, student activities coordinator, who are co‑chairs of the campus Gender and Sexuality Alliance, collaborated to upgrade the two bathrooms with the help of Wanda Ochei, director of Student Services and Engagement; Sarah Luvender‑Newman, personal counselor; and Gary Beisel, director of Business Services. These are the first two gender‑neutral restrooms on the Wilkes‑Barre campus. The Health Services office, located in the Athletic and Recreation Building (ARB), also has a single‑stall restroom.

In 2016, Penn State University Park re‑designated 57 gender‑specific, single‑stall restrooms to gender‑neutral restrooms.