request from AERA Queer Studies SIG for gender-neutral bathrooms

By | February 14, 2011

Lately, and for lots of reasons, I’ve been spending most of my blogging energy on gender and queer identity and less energy on posts about education and educational research. But something happened today that combined my interests in these areas: A Special Interest Group of which I am a member has formally requested gender neutral restrooms at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

By permission of Caitlin Ryan, the membership chair of the AERA Queer Studies SIG, I’m posting the request letter below.

The AERA Annual Meeting is the biggest educational research conference that I know of. Because it’s so big, it’s easy for nondominant theories, people, interests, and needs to be overlooked and marginalized by the weight of the mainstream. At last year’s meeting, the most heavily attended events were those featuring established (read: generally late-career, generally mainstream, generally well known) scholars. I saw much lower attendance rates at the events focusing on resistance, alternativity, and less well established approaches and methodologies. This isn’t surprising, but it’s something I wish AERA governance would work on resolving. After all, those big names get heard at every conference and in every journal.

I’m glad the AERA Queer Studies SIG is working for more effective support for non-normative researchers. I’m new to this Special Interest Group, but so far I’ve seen signs that it’s working toward more effective support for non-normative research, as well. Here’s hoping this effort trickles up.

Letter below.

February 7,2011

Dear Dr. Larson and AERA Meeting Department Staff,

Because of your respective roles as the Program Chair and members of the Meeting Department Staff for AERA’s 2011 Annual Meeting, we as officers ofthe Queer Studies SIG are writing to ask for your help. In the past several months, we’ve all heard countless stories of bullying, harassment, and mistreatment of LGBTQ youth and adults. Whether in the papers, on the news, or in the Iflt Gets Better” testimonies on YouTube, a consistent message from LGBTQ people is that they felt like they didn’t fit in or were not welcome in their families, schools, and communities. Certainly, AERA cannot single handedly change this situation, but the members of the Queer Studies SIG are committed to making the AERA annual meeting as inclusive as possible.

To that end, we are requesting that AERA designate easily accessible and identifiable bathrooms at the 2011 Annual Meeting in New Orleans as all-gender or gender-neutral bathrooms.

Creating gender-neutral bathroom spaces at the AERA meeting serves members both within and outside of the LGBTQ community. First, this simple act sends a strong message about the rights of all LGBTQ members of AERA to participate fully in the organization’s activities and feel safe while doing so. Gender-specific bathrooms often position transgender and genderqueer people in compromising positions since they require people choose between categories that do not adequately describe their gender. We believe that all people at AERA events have the right to use public bathrooms that fit their needs without fear of incident. In addition, these spaces will also serve the needs of AERA attendees who might be otherly-abled or families traveling with small children.

To this end, we would like to request that at each of the primary venues there are gender­neutral bathrooms designated throughout the building which would be accessible by all participants. We understand that this request would require coordination with hotel hospitality managers, and we as a SIG are happy to assist in that effort. For example, we would be willing to provide signage for the restrooms or language for a brief explanation to be included in the program or at information centers in each venue. Considering AERA’s size and notable presence in New Orleans, we feel that this gesture will promote AERA as a socially conscious organization committed to addressing heteronormative practices.

We look forward to hearing from you and working together to bring gender-neutral bathrooms to the 2011 Annual Meeting to better serve the diverse AERA membership. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Sincerely,

The Officers of AERA’s Queer Studies SIG Connie North (chair), Barbara Garii, Janna Jackson, Tim Larrabee, Elizabeth Meyer, Jeffrey Poirier, Cathy Rosenberg, Caitlin L. Ryan, Amy Shema and Anna V. Wilson

Cc: Kris D. Gutierrez, President Arnetha F. Ball, President-Elect Felice J. Levine, Executive Director George Wimberly, Social Justice and Professional Development Director William H. Watkins, Social Justice Action Committee Chair