LGBTI students want gender-neutral dorm rooms

Source: Çiçek Tahaoğlu, “LGBTİ Öğrenciler Cinsiyetsiz Yurtlar İstiyor,” (“LGBTI students want gender-neutral dorm rooms,”) bianet, 13 November 2013, http://www.bianet.org/bianet/lgbtt/151265-lgbti-ogrenciler-cinsiyetsiz-yurtlar-istiyor

LGBTI students at Boğaziçi University are demanding gender-neutral dorm rooms. Görkem Ulumeriç from the Boğaziçi University LGBTI community talked to bianet about the housing problems and the group’s requests.

After the mixed-sex dormitories were separated, LGBTI students were placed in dorms for women or men only. In order to to be spared from the heteronormativity of the dorms, they try to stay together when possible. However, gay men and trans women are forced to stay in male dormitories, while lesbians and trans men are required to stay in female dormitories.

Even if they developed methods to overcome the female-male dorms problem in practice, they will still demand that the state be aware of students with special needs and queer rooms be implemented as a housing policy by the university management.

Ulumeriç stated,“If the dormitories are only divided into two sections for women or men, then this necessitates finding other alternatives. It is obvious that there is not just one sexual orientation or gender. Thus the needs of the other students should be considered.”

“Getting dressed and using the same toilets are problematic”

Lubunya is a queer group founded by the LGBTI students of the Boğaziçi University and consists of approximately 60-70 members. Ulumeriç says that as Lubunya, they are doing their best to aid LGBTI people in the university:

“Those who are about starting the university reach us and say, ‘I am going to stay in the dorms and I am worried. Are there any other LGBT students? I want to stay with them.’ We try to help them. But these questions are few in number because coming out is such an issue; and so is reaching out. Generally LGBTI students find each other after they start university and they end up staying together.”

So what are trans students doing? Do they stay in the male dorms or in the female dorms? What kind of concrete problems do they encounter in the dorms?

“Trans students are placed according to the color of their personal identification cards [blue for men and pink for women]. But they can resolve this problem by applying to the university management if they want to. Three years ago two trans students had problems because of exclusion; the university gave them a separate room. However, because the coming out process is troubling, trans people generally have to stay in the rooms for the opposite sex.

“There are a lot of problems such as getting dressed, using the same toilets, being offended by the homophobic and transphobic language used when socializing, and being unable to express oneself.”

“1-2 people rooms are ideal”

Boğaziçi’s dorm rooms are for 4-12 people. Ulumeriç states that this crowd causes the restriction of freedoms. “What we have been advocating for the student rooms and what is ideal for everyone is that they should be for 1-2 people.”

“For the current system- the 4-12 people rooms- we demand gender-neutral ones. Gender-neutral rooms exist in Europe and in the USA.”

However, where these rooms should be located -in a male dorm or in a female dorm- is another problem. Ulumeriç emphasizes the need to improve the current situation and says: “It does not matter as long as they exist.”

“The biggest problem is exclusion”

Ulumeriç says, “LGBTI students are excluded in both family homes and dorms. They try to overcome this situation by renting houses and being in solidarity with each other but the situation has become something you cannot maintain only through solidarity.” Moreover, he is worried about the expected inspection of student houses.

“Our main problem is exclusion. The atmosphere is too heterosexual. Despite the altered regulations of the Institution of Higher Education (YÖK) and the fact that Boğaziçi University principles consists of the prevention of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, special needs of the students are not considered.

“Because of exclusion, we LGBTI students, do our best to avoid staying in the dorms. In the last three years three trans friends had to drop out because of exclusion, having to leave the dorms, being forced to earn their own money but being unable to find a job.

“Consequently, we demand affirmative action regarding both the dormitories and the distribution of scholarships. We experience exclusion from our families when we come out. Because there is exclusion in the dorms, we host our friends who were ostracized by their families, in our own homes. But the situation has reached a point that cannot be maintain through solidarity alone.

“And now they are even planning to come into our homes. We already ran away from the dorms, we have difficulties in finding jobs. They will come into our homes and will not leave us alone even in our liberated areas.”

Ulumeriç states that Boğaziçi University has had an LGBTI organization for over 15 years. And he says LGBTI students who have stayed in other universities or in the dorms of Credit and Hostels Institution have been kicked out. They continue their education under difficult conditions or cannot continue at all.

Students, academics and workers working in the university will discuss gender-neutral dorm rooms in the Boğaziçi forum on 14 November 2013. On Saturday, 15 LGBTI organizations will get together again in Boğaziçi to talk about tangible solutions.

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