The concept of gender-neutral bathrooms and the campaign against them is not a new concept in America. Dating back to at least 1978, people have been protesting for genderless bathrooms with resistance from those who believed that transgender individuals were a threat, a danger to society, and would increase sexual assault towards women (Scout, 2016). Transgender individuals are individuals whose gender identity can be a defined in a range of gender that can be male, female, in between, or somewhere on a spectrum and it does not match their sex that was assigned at birth (Seelman, 2014).
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This includes individuals who may be male-to-female, female-to-male, genderqueer, and other identities and is frequently used as an umbrella term for non-binary persons. This definition also includes those who have undergone surgery, are taking hormones, both, or neither (Seelman, 2014).
Gender-segregated areas such as housing and bathrooms become essential for anyone, including those who identify as transgender, to participate in society. Without access to housing, bathrooms, and other gender-segregated environments people are unable to fully exist in society, hence the problem many transgender individuals and transgender students are facing in America today.
Discrimination towards trans-individuals is rampant including blatant discrimination (e.g., denying services) or more subtle microaggressions (e.g., misgendering); (Seelman, Woodford, & Nicolazzo, 2016). Transgender individuals are being denied housing, access to bathrooms, and other rights that cisgender individuals (individuals whose gender matches their sex that was assigned at birth) have access to. Transgender students on college campuses are also experiencing prejudice and discrimination, despite the growing awareness and demand for transgender services and equality (CITATION). Reasons for transprejudice (attitudes towards transgender individuals that can be considered prejudice); (White & Jenkins, 2017) can be explained through understanding societal expectations and norms, the power of the majority group , and physical appearance.
The current research examined whether participants manipulated view of acceptance for gender-neutral bathrooms on a college campus would have an effect on the participants’ level of acceptance for transgender individuals in varying gender-segregated or integrated environments.
Research has demonstrated that similar to many other marginalized identities within the LGBT community, transgender individuals experience discrimination and prejudice (Buck & Obzud, 2018). However, unlike LGB identities, transgender individuals experience more negative experiences and face different barriers as transgender individuals have not received the same acceptance that other LGB individuals have (E.g., Buck & Obzud, 2018; Scout, 2016).
Transgender individuals experience discrimination in various ways. In some states as of 2016, it is legal to kick transgender individuals out of hotels or refuse housing to these individuals because many states lack laws that not only protect sex and sexual orientation, but also gender identity (Scout, 2016). Buck and Obzud (2018) conducted a study that demonstrated that transgender individuals experience more discrimination in gender-segregated environments such as locker rooms, sports teams, and school opportunities, as opposed to gender-integrated environments. This study also suggested that more negative attitudes about transgender individuals are expressed in gender-segregated environments as opposed to gender-integrated environments (Buck & Obzud, 2018). Several studies have shown that transgender individuals experience higher rates of discrimination when restrooms are involved (E.g., Buck & Obzud, 2018; Scout, 2016). For example, 58% of transgender individuals have reported they avoid bathrooms to avoid harassment and 70% report that they have either been denied, harassed, or assaulted for attempting to use the restroom (Scout, 2016). Trans-individuals are also at higher risk for experiencing violence, discrimination by health officials, and even prejudice from their own friends (Barbir, Vandevender, & Cohen, 2017).
However, a further study showed that when cisgender, heterosexual individuals have a friend who is transgender they are more likely to have reduced discrimination and prejudice towards the transgender population (Barbir, et al., 2017). This also means that these individuals have greater acceptance and support for transgender people.
Different studies suggest different explanations as to why transgender individual face disproportionate discrimination compared to both cisgender individuals and other LGB individuals. Research completed by Barbir et al. (2017) suggest that influence from the majority group, in this case cisgender individuals, have an effect on the overall group attitude towards minority groups, such as transgender individuals. Their research also suggests that prejudice is frequently rooted in society and when minority goals do not match with the majority goals, prejudice towards the minority group is the result. Buck and Obzud’s (2018) research indicates that gender-segregated settings relies heavily on one’s sex and that this has become a norm and expectation. Cisgender individuals may find actions that challenge the norm, such as a transgender person using a bathroom that does not match their assigned sex, wrong and will attempt to enforce these norms. While attempting to enforce these norms, these individuals are simultaneously discriminating against trans-people. Conservative groups also frequently use scare tactics (E.g., spreading the belief that gender-neutral bathrooms will increase the number of sexual assaults) to encourage other cisgender people to support discriminatory actions and laws against transgender individuals (Scout, 2016). However, no research has found that trans-people are threats or a danger to others in restrooms (Buck & Obzud, 2018). Other research has demonstrated that physical appearance or the perceived physical appearance of transgender individuals has an effect on transacceptance (White & Jenkins, 2017).
As the number of college students rise, so does the percentage of transgender students who attend college (Dugan, Kusel, & Simounet, 2012). However, the accommodations and services that would encourage coping and academic success for transgender students has not increased (Dugan et al., 2012; Seelman 2016). Research has demonstrated that transgender students face unproportionate discrimination and harassment compared to their cisgender peers on college campuses. (Seelman, 2016).
Seelman’s (2014) research indicated that transgender identities do matter when accessing housing and bathrooms on college campuses. According to the study, 1 in 5 transgender college students were denied usage of housing that matched their identity and approximately 1 in 4 were denied access to bathrooms. The study also indicated that factors such as race, age, annual household income, disability, and other marginalized identities effected the chances of a transgender individual having access to housing and bathrooms. Further research demonstrates that transgender individuals also face discrimination on college campuses through health care, locker rooms, records and documents, public inclusion, and support services (Beemyn, 2005). Transgender students also report greater feelings of exclusion and are more likely to consider leaving their college or university compared to their cisgender peers (Seelman, 2016). Seelman et al. (2017) also report in their research that in attention to blatant transphobic behavior, microaggressions towards transgender individuals on college campuses occurs frequently and through forms such as purposefully misgendering trans-individuals or issues regarding changing names on documents or campus records.
While many colleges and universities appear welcoming to transgender students and may be willing to change social policies and appearances, they still struggle to meet the needs to this marginalized population. Colleges and universities must change their structure that frequently enforces and upholds the concept of binary genders on campuses (Seelman, 2014). For example, the majority of bathrooms, housing, and locker rooms remain gendered and sex-segregated and are also located where transgender individuals face a majority of discrimination. Universities generally lack the knowledge of transgender student’s experiences and needs and it has even been reported that faculty and staff are not properly trained about transgender issues (Dugan et al., 2012). This system continues to encourage individuals to use anatomical or physical characteristics to define gender and/or reinforces the idea of a gender binary which further perpetuates transprejudice on college campuses (E.g., Buck & Obzud, 2018; White & Jenkins, 2017).
As previously mentioned, research has demonstrated that transgender people face discrimination and microaggressions (Buck & Obzud, 2018; Herman, 2013; Seelman et al. 2016). Research has also shown that transgender individuals feel unsafe or uncomfortable in spaces that are considered gendered, such as bathroom and locker rooms (Buck & Obzud, 2018; Herman, 2013; Scout 2016). It has also been demonstrated that transgender individuals face discrimination on college campuses, including in regards to accessing housing and bathrooms (Beemyn, 2005; Dugan et al., 2012; Seelman 2014). As the number of individuals who attend colleges rises, colleges and universities must make adjustments to meet student’s needs. However, services for LGBTQ students, especially trans students, frequently struggle to meet the needs of these students (Beemyn, 2005; Seelman, 2014). Instead, campuses maintain binary systems which perpetrates discrimination against transgender students (Beemyn, 2005). Further research has also shown that an individual’s perceived attractiveness on transmen and transwomen can influence transacceptance in gendered settings (White & Jenkins, 2017).
The current study investigated the relationship between perceived perception of support for gender-neutral bathrooms on a college campus, specifically the College at Brockport, State University of New York, and the level of acceptance of transgender individuals in different environments. The perceived perception of support for gender-neutral bathrooms was be the independent variable. This was by manipulated by giving participants statements that either suggest that a majority of students are in support of gender-neutral bathrooms or that a majority of students are not (see Appendices A & B). The dependent variable was the level of acceptance participants record for transgender people in environments that vary between gender-integrated and gender-segregated using the Gender-Spaced Acceptance Questionnaire (White & Jenkins, 2017; see Appendix C). The primary hypothesis for this study states that participants who receive the statement that a majority of students support gender-neutral bathrooms will rate higher levels of acceptance for transgender individuals in each area compared to the students who received the unsupportive majority statement.
In addition to the primary hypothesis, two exploratory hypotheses were tested. The first of these hypotheses states that participants overall will record high levels of acceptance for transgender individuals in environments that are considered less gender-segregated such as a classroom or dining hall relative to environments that are gender-segregated such as bathrooms and residence halls. The second exploratory hypothesis states that participants who received information that indicates higher support for gender-neutral bathrooms (see Appendix A) will report higher levels of fairness for women at SUNY Brockport using the Procedural Fairness for Women Questionnaire which was adapted from the study completed by Kaiser, Major, Jurcevic, Dover, Brady, and Scarprio (2013; see Appendix D) compared to those participants who received the other IV option (see Appendix B).
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