Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging: A Call for Gender-Inclusive Toilets

Lee Cyphers and Joseph Peterson tackle the problem of Juilliard's lack of gender-inclusive bathrooms, and offer a call to action.

Lee Cyphers and Joseph Peterson tackle the problem of Juilliard’s lack of gender-inclusive bathrooms, and offer a call to action.

At this year’s Convocation, new Juilliard President Damian Woetzel spoke a lot about making the school more collaborative and inclusive. “We must be intentional and proactive in fostering a robust representation of experiences and perspectives within our community,” Woetzel said. “I believe deeply in Juilliard as a community where each of us ‘belongs,’ and that education cannot be its best without being fully inclusive.”

Well said, Mr. President.

Now let’s talk about toilets.

Everybody needs one, and it’s impossible to make it through the day without using one. At Juilliard, that usually means entering either a “male-only”or “female-only” space. While many people may not even think twice about where to go, choosing between and physically being in these spaces produces unnecessary anxiety and fear for some trans, non-binary, and/or gender nonconforming people.

There is another option: they can go to a secluded corner near the Kaufman Dance Studio on the second floor, behind double doors and far from where most classes and rehearsals take place, and use one of the two single stall restrooms available there. While these are technically inclusive restrooms, in practice they only serve to further alienate those who may already feel alone.

Bathrooms have often been a battleground for larger social struggles. For example, in the classical music world, a space traditionally dominated by men, it wasn’t too long ago when women either weren’t allowed or were just not hired to play in orchestras. Even after those first trailblazing women started winning orchestral jobs, many concert halls didn’t have adequate space for women’s restrooms and changing rooms. Inequality was literally built in to the workplace.

Trans (especially non-passing) and/or non-binary people today find themselves in a similar position – part of a marginalized group whose needs are only recently being considered in these spaces. The fact that Juilliard does not yet have gender-inclusive bathrooms sends a few implicit messages to any individual in the building whose gender identity or expression adds diversity to our community: “Your needs are not important,” “You are not welcome,” and, possibly worst of all, “There is not space for you to exist here.” Experiencing this type of indifferent denial of identity day in and day out is arguably a form of violence, and at the very least, is not conducive to a healthy learning environment.

As artists, we need to be able to take up space, grow, and explore different ways of being in the world. We need to feel safe enough to try new things, to be vulnerable. We need the freedom to be ourselves unapologetically in order to find our voice. We also need to listen to all sorts of people who are different from us. We need to soak up as much of humanity as we can in order to broaden our reach and relevance, and our understanding of the world. Our arts need diversity, and this includes trans voices.

To this effect, President Woetzel’s Convocation address rings true. We, as students, just need to hold him to it.

How do we do this?

We the Student Body must actively fight for better inclusivity at Juilliard, beginning with bathrooms. Two hidden single-stalls in the entire building is not enough. We need at least one gender-neutral option on every floor. Until then, we will be labeling every restroom in the school as all-inclusive, so all students can feel safe. If you want to help us on this mission, we will be holding a meeting to finalize the designs for the bathroom signs. We’ll meet on Wednesday, October 10 at 1pm, location TBD (stay tuned!) If you’d like to be involved but cannot make the meeting, send your sign ideas or write to lc4@juilliard.edu.

We all have a voice and we cannot be silenced.