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At UVM, no-gender facilities are added

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The University of Vermont's big new student center doesn't just have women's bathrooms and men's bathrooms.

It also has gender-neutral bathrooms, a feature added to accommodate transgendered people, as well as those with some disabilities. The four single bathrooms in the new Dudley H. Davis Center -- each with a toilet, sink, shower, and lockable door -- cost about $2,500 a piece to build. Their wall signs identify each as "gender neutral restroom."

"It's about inclusivity and accessibility and the importance of meeting all people's needs, not just a few," said Annie Stevens, assistant vice president for student and campus life.

UVM isn't the only school trying to make its accommodations more accommodating. At least 17 colleges and universities have included gender-neutral bathrooms in their new construction or in retrofitting residence halls, said Stephanie Gordon, director of educational programs at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

"A multiuse bathroom doesn't necessarily feel safe to transgendered students, because they have concerns about how their gender would be read by others," said Dot Brauer, director of the school's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Ally Services.

A woman who identifies as a man, for example, may not feel welcome in a women's restroom. Transgendered people have been the target of verbal and physical abuse in restrooms and been arrested, or suspected of lewd conduct, according to Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

"There are students whose safety and comfort is compromised," Brauer said.

Kelly, a 19-year-old transgendered UVM student who did not want her last name published, said she has been made to feel "very uncomfortable" in restrooms.

"I think that they're a really important thing to have," she said of the new facilities. "Just because there can be tense situations in gendered bathrooms, especially for trans-identified people, you need a space to use the restroom and feel safe and comfortable."

UVM also offers several gender-neutral residential suites.

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