"RIT does not discriminate.”
This is the opening statement of RIT’s Nondiscrimination Statement. When such weight is given to a statement, it is natural to assume that providing a safe, friendly environment for everyone would be of the utmost importance. With resources like the Counseling Center and organizations like the RIT Gay Alliance, it would seem that RIT is an accepting, accessible campus. Unfortunately, equal opportunity doesn’t seem to extend to the Gordon Field House’s Aquatics Center.
As a genderqueer individual, Nicole Bouteiller prefers the pronouns "ze" in place of he or she and "hir" in place of him or her.
Nicole Bouteiller, a genderqueer NITD student majoring in Psychology, simply wanted to use the pool like any other tuition-paying RIT student. However, ze has run into so many problems with pool staff ze has stopped going. Bouteiller wore what ze was comfortable in and what ze wanted to be seen in: a dark cami top with a pair of men’s swim trunks.
"When I was little, I was in a fire, so I’m not comfortable with exposing bikinis or one pieces because of the scarring,” said Bouteiller. This apparently wasn’t enough reason for the pool staff.
"They said ‘girls can’t wear shorts,’” said Bouteiller.
Bouteiller noted that the athletes at the pool were wearing street clothes, yet the pool staff was not bothering them. Ze felt that the lifeguard was being selective in how he enforced the dress code. In addition to facing hir own difficulties, Bouteiller also recounted an incident where hir transgender friend faced blatant discrimination from pool employees. Bouteiller said that hir friend, a woman, wore an appropriate two-piece bathing suit to the pool, where a lifeguard stopped her. “He says ‘Sorry, if you’re a man, that means you need to show up with shorts.’” Bouteiller said. When the woman explained her situation, the lifeguard said “I’m sorry, you need to change your clothes or leave.”
Even when they pressed for more information, the only explanation they received was “girls need to dress like girls, and boys need to dress like boys.” As if that treatment wasn’t enough, Bouteiller said that hir female friend then “had to change in the men’s locker room.”
The petition that Bouteiller started on PawPrints in protest has received over 400 signatures, a veritable outpouring of support considering how recently the site was launched.
Student Government Director of Student Relations Nick Giordano weighed in on the situation.
“I believe it’s a very simple change that could be made in order to accommodate all students, and I think that’s what the Wellness Center and the Aquatics Center should be aiming for: accommodating all students,” said Giordano. Though he said he hadn’t “heard back from the aquatic center yet,” Giordano said “I feel that it’s wrong that RIT hasn’t accounted policies yet for the Trans* community.”
These cases seem to explicitly violate the RIT Nondiscrimination Statement, which says that equal opportunity is given to everyone regardless of gender identity or gender expression. However, it seems that change is desperately needed on a larger level; every single abuse, discriminatory action and example of intolerance described above is completely and totally legal in New York State.
Although the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) was passed in the State Assembly, it has yet to pass the Senate. The legislation would prevent certain discrimination and extend hate crime laws to cover transgender and genderqueer people.
Regardless of the law, RIT has been and should be an example of an inclusive community. As easy as it is to simply sign a petition, these issues are too important to be ignored or passively accepted. Write to your student senators, support on-campus GLBT groups like Spectrum or RIT Gay Alliance – be an ally. Do whatever it takes to make RIT keep its promises and to make our university an example of an accepting community.
At time of writing, the Gordon Field House Aquatics Center has chosen not to comment.