Missouri State University claims it’s not making a statement with its move to designate certain bathrooms as gender neutral.

Missouri State University President Clif Smart - Image courtesy of MSU

Missouri State University President Clif Smart – Image courtesy of MSU

As of Monday, restrooms on the fourth floor of the school’s Plaster Student Union were no longer labeled men and women.

MSU president Clif Smart contends the move was not meant to be a political statement, but an effort to serve all students, including those with gender issues.  “This is not making a statement in any way, liberal or conservative” said Smart.  “It’s just trying to create a non-confrontational, easy way to serve our transgender students, our men and women students, our non-traditional students with children, anyone that wants some more privacy from using a bathroom.”

Smart says the school has many single use bathrooms which can be used by anyone, including “nontraditional” students with young children who may need to change diapers.

Transgender restroom use has become a hot button issue across the country after cities and states have implemented or restricted use based on sexual identity.

Smart admits there’s been some backlash from the local Springfield community over the university’s decision.  He says there’s been “a handful of facebook and social media kinds of things I think that don’t understand what we’re doing.  We’re not trying to make a statement.  We’re not trying to say something’s good or bad.  We’re just trying to provide an additional option.”

Smart claims the university has between 50 and 100 transgender students in any given year who’ll now have the option of using gender neutral restrooms on the student union’s top floor.  He notes all bathrooms on the building’s three other floors remain gender specific.  Smart says the gender neutral facilities are meant to benefit all students, including transgender people.

“There’s sometimes discomfort if one of those students has to make a choice between using the men’s room or the women’s room.  Sometimes that’s uncomfortable for them.  Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for our regular students that aren’t dealing with this issue.”

Smart claims the school’s move wasn’t meant to draw publicity, but is expecting some negative reaction from local citizens.  MSU is located in what’s considered one of the most conservative parts of a state which has become more solidly Republican in recent years.

Transgender bathroom use has made headlines nationally over the past two years as voters in cities such as Houston have rejected use based on gender identity.  Charlotte, North Carolina passed a law enabling use based on transgender preference, which was overturned by the state legislature.

Large businesses have responded negatively toward laws restricting transgender bathroom use.  The National Basketball Association cancelled its all-star game scheduled in Charlotte after the state legislature’s move.