As the court fight continues over the state law known as HB2, UNC-Chapel Hill is trying to sidestep a battle over signage for 150 new gender neutral restrooms being created on campus.
On Wednesday, university leaders announced a series of steps to improve diversity and inclusion on the Chapel Hill campus. The new bathrooms will bring the total number of gender neutral facilities at UNC to 300.
But labeling the new restrooms has proven to be tricky.
Last week, the university removed gender nonspecific bathroom signs at the Campus Y, headquarters of student social justice groups. The signs featured a pictogram of the Venus and Mars female and male symbols, as well as one that combined the two symbols. It said, “This restroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression.”
Those were replaced with signs featuring stick figures of a male, female and a person in a wheelchair. That prompted anger by students who said the new signs express gender as a binary, excluding transgender people who don’t fit into one of those categories.
The Campus Y posted a photo of the old and new signs on its Facebook page, saying, “Happening now at the Campus Y, courtesy of UNC administration and NC state legislature, gender neutral bathroom signs being ripped down. All gender identities and expressions still welcome.”
The student critics were derided on conservative websites last week. One of them, www.chicksontheright.com, called the students “whiners” who accused the university of violating their safe space. “Good grief – they’re acting like kids throwing tantrums because someone left the pickles on their Happy Meal cheeseburgers,” wrote a blogger identified as Miss CJ.
Wednesday’s announcement, signed by UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and three other administrators, said the university would not use the stick figure signs. Instead, “based on concerns that were shared last week about signage,” they wrote, gender neutral facilities at UNC will be labeled with a generic pictogram of a toilet and the word, “Restroom.”
The administrators said the toilet signs follow federal recommendations “and are similar to signs used around the world.”
UNC has been caught in the crossfire over the law known as House Bill 2, which required people in schools, universities and government facilities to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.
The federal judge who will preside over one of the trials in the challenge of House Bill 2 says the North Carolina law’s transgender challengers are likely to succeed in one of their arguments against HB2. Last week, a federal judge blocked the UNC system from enforcing the bathroom provision of the law for the three transgender plaintiffs.
In Wednesday’s announcement, Folt and her team emphasized that the university “has not and will not be taking steps to enforce House Bill 2. As reflected in long-standing University policy, we do not discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, and we are fully committed to being open and welcoming to individuals of all backgrounds.”