Offensive signage has once again returned to the campus of SUNY New Paltz.
Around noon on Wednesday, Feb. 22, two signs were found affixed to the doors of two gender neutral bathrooms in the Faculty Office Building, (FOB). The signage read: “Preferred Ladies’ Restroom” and “Preferred Men’s Restroom.” A Twitter user from the College shared an image of the signs on social media, tweeting directly at the college’s official Twitter handle with a call for action on the part of SUNY New Paltz students and faculty. The signs were subsequently removed.
The offensive signs appeared on the same day that the Trump administration lifted federal protections for transgender students. The same afternoon, SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian sent an email condemning the signage and reaffirming the college’s commitment to diversity on campus.
“Our college remains committed to recognizing the importance of gender neutral bathrooms to support the safety and inclusion of our [LGBTQIA+] community,” Christian said. “For a number of years, we have made clear administrative decisions to include gender neutral bathrooms in new and newly renovated buildings. This is an institutional decision. No individual in the community has the authority to change the designation of these bathrooms.”
While New Paltz has dealt with racially offensive messages in the past, from 2011 to as recently as last November, this marks the first time that discriminatory graffiti has been found on campus against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. Past Oracle reports show that all of these racial incidents sparked subsequent UPD investigations.
“UPD [University Police Department] is aware of both of these incidents. The proper resources have been allocated to look into both. UPD, along with the college administration is committed to ensuring a safe living and learning environment to all on our campus,” UPD Chief David Dugatkin told The Oracle.
Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and sociology professor Karl Bryant offered his opinion on the incident, which he called an act of transphobia.
“I obviously don’t know precisely what motivated the person or people who carried out this act — although, given public conversations on our campus about gender neutral bathrooms, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t know this especially targets trans and gender nonconforming campus members,” Bryant said. “Regardless of what the intent was, the effects of these kinds of incidents are clearly transphobic, and contribute to creating a transphobic climate on our campus.”
According to Bryant, transgender and gender nonconforming people rely heavily on gender neutral bathrooms; these spaces offer a reduced likelihood that trans people will be harassed while trying to use the bathroom. It’s a basic and universal human function, Bryant said.
“The ‘bathroom issue’ isn’t simply about bathrooms,” he said. “It’s about the degree to which trans and gender nonconforming people are recognized as fully human, and the degree to which they are included in our collective life and public spaces.”
This incident comes almost a year after national attention was cast on North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law, commonly known as the“bathroom ban.” The law required transgender individuals to use restrooms that align with the sex they were assigned at birth instead of their gender identity. Major national news outlets, including The Washington Post, CNN and The New York Times, all covered the bill’s passage into law in March of 2016, which spurred an onslaught of pro-LGBTQIA+ resistance from social justice organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, (ALCU), and the Human Rights Campaign, (HRC).