Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gender-Neutral Housing, Wave of the Future

A quick glance at my iPad calendar shows me that the year is still 2012, and yet we insist on debating the issue of equality for same-sex couples and members of the LGBT Community. Seriously? One of the GOP presidential candidates, Rick Santorum, compares homosexuality to deviant sex, like bestiality and pedophilia. Unfortunately, ignorant and bigoted morons like Santorum are not the only examples of the intense homophobia sweeping the nation. For the most part, Residential Life still restricts housing based on one’s sex (what mother nature gave us), rather than gender (socially constructed).

However, according to the Oklahoma Daily, the newspaper for the University of Oklahoma (for article click here), the campus is fighting for gender-neutral housing in the hope they can change the Conservative bent of their state and provide "a little step" in the right direction. For those unfamiliar with why gender-neutral housing is so important for the LGBT Community, here you go: it provides students who may possess one set of sex organs, but identify as a different gender, with a safe environment in which to live. Usually, gender-neutral residence halls permit anyone to live with each other regardless of gender—so men can live with women and vice versa. It also eliminates gender-separate bathrooms, which avoids the uncomfortable and intimidating choice as to which bathroom to use.

As common sense as this type of housing is, many colleges are still uncomfortable offering this as an option. At a conference presentation I attended on this issue, the presenters cited the following reasons: colleges are nervous that alumni will object to this new style of housing and may stop donating; they are worried conservative parents will oppose unmarried men and women living together; and they are fearful of becoming a lightning rod for special interests who may target them for having this new form of housing.

Side note: it amazes me how the biggest issue with some parents is the possibility of unmarried men and women living together, yet they have not noticed that traditional housing permits same-sex couples to live together--unmarried.

Listen, first, just because a man and woman live together does not mean they are having wild orgies and key parties. And second, just because a man who identifies as a woman wants to use the restroom in a comfortable and dignified way does not mean they are indoctrinating other students into the “gay lifestyle”. Although I was not around when this happened, I am sure when residence halls went co-ed, there were lots of opposition out of concern that there would be a whole lotta sex going on. Hazarding a guess, there was probably plenty of sex happening before men and women lived in the same building. Humans are resourceful when it comes to hooking up.

Gender-neutral housing is the next best thing coming to residence halls across the nation, so we might as well accept it. Members of the LGBT Community have the right to live in a comfortable and nonthreatening environment where they can experience college without fear of being attacked or harassed. As the Oklahoma Daily states, LGBT Rights is the Civil Rights of our generation, and just like our parents (or grandparents), we need to encourage (or force) our campuses to make daring decisions that may make the Extreme Right unhappy. Permitting blacks and whites to study together in the same school and same classroom was once considered radical, but it happened. Why? Because a few stood up for the rights of the many and brought down segregation. Now it’s our turn. 


  1. very good commentary, and it's nice to see someone mentioning the pain in the ass that trying to room with your friend is when you're trans*. one edit, though: " a man who identifies as a woman " isn't a man, they're a woman, just like you are the gender that YOU identify as. if you want to refer to the fact that they're not a cis woman, you can just say a transgendered woman. :)
    a lot of people claim confusion that such a reference doesn't tell them whether the person in question "was" a boy and "is" a girl or vice versa, but if they stopped for a moment to think they would realize any respectful article would only refer to someone as being the gender they identify with, regardless of what paperwork might say.

  2. As an RA and RHA executive board member at the University of Oklahoma I have heard a lot about this issue from both sides. I'm proud of our institution for finally (after about three years of the topic being discussed in RHA) examining the issue in-depth and preparing to make an informed decision. I'm even more excited to see other schools looking into this option for students. Thanks for the well-written and informed post!

  3. I was an RA back in my undergrad, and I definitely support the idea of non-judgmental housing. At my university our new residence halls were somewhat gender-neutral. All buildings and wings were co-ed, but all individual rooms were same-sex. I think it promoted a great environment for the students and helped their socialization, much more so than if they were placed in male and female dormitories.

    My question to you: what measures would a university need to implement in order to protect the safety of the students? For example, in my semesters on the job I saw my fair share of residents dating and/or hooking up. When these relationships (predictably) tanked there were emotions ranging from indifference to hostility. It was bad enough having them on the same floor...but if the dumper and dumpee were roommates? It would have been a nightmare. And sexual violence would be a possibility.


  4. Anon #1: Thank you for the correction. While writing this, I was very conscious to be correct in my terminology. Thanks again!

    Shane, I would not handle it any differently than I would a roommate conflict. In your scenario, I see it just like two friends who attend the same college and live together. If they break off their friendship, they will have the same emotional attachment and issues to deal with as the couple in a relationship. Of course, in our traditional system, same-sex couples can already live together with the possibility of breaking up. All good thoughts. It's an interesting concept. Thanks for the question!