A petition started by Tisch Senior Ryan Lowe to bring gender-neutral bathrooms to Pearl Studios quickly amassed over 600 signatures and gained the attention of the building’s management.
“I am attaching this letter to a petition of signatures from cis folks, trans folks and everyone in between who use Pearl Studios and feel that gender-neutral signage would make Pearl a better place,” Lowe wrote in the petition.
Pearl Studios is a performing arts facility in Midtown where students in the Tisch New Studio take classes during their junior and senior years. In New York City, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their gender, including denying access to bathrooms. NYU has gender-neutral bathrooms all over campus.
In the week since the petition was posted to change.org, Lowe has been working with Rick Battaglino, the general manager of Pearl Studios, to select signage for the bathrooms and how to adapt existing bathrooms to gender-neutral facilities.
Lowe, who identifies as transgender and gender non-conforming, decided to bring the issue to Pearl’s management after an incident they experienced in the women’s bathroom.
Lowe was excited to receive a callback for a role as Fastrada in a summer production of the musical “Pippin.” For Lowe, it was their first opportunity to play a cis-female. Lowe was leaving the bathroom stall when they ran into a woman who they later learned was a casting director in the studio. While washing hands, the woman looked at them suspiciously.
After several glances, Lowe said they asked the woman if there was a problem. The woman questioned whether it was “the men’s room or the women’s room,” according to Lowe. Lowe responded by asking the woman how she could be sure of their gender and that they have the right to use whichever bathroom they want.
“She replied by screaming at me to ‘Get going’ and that ‘I better check myself,’” Lowe said in an interview with WSN.
For Lowe, interactions like this are nothing new.
“There’s like a moment of hesitancy when they see you,” Lowe said. “And it’s always like this glance at you then glance at the door as if to check the sign on the door to make sure. And so I’m used to that by now.”
At first, Lowe would stay silent in these situations, but as time went on, Lowe felt as if they needed to confront the discrimination.
“I simply start up saying ‘Is there a problem?’ You know just ask the question and see,” Lowe said. “And some people have been like ‘Oh my gosh I’m so sorry.’”
Other times, like the incident with the casting director, the situation can turn aggressive. Lowe said that such instances create an unsafe space for queer and trans performers at Pearl Studios.
With help from Tisch administrators and New Studio Director Kent Gash, Lowe caught the attention of Pearl Studios’ management and has since been working with them.
“It was clear that they understood a need for change,” Lowe said.
Tisch freshman Ashley Newquist was surprised that gender-neutral bathrooms didn’t exist in the space already.
“I think it’s really messed up,” Newquist said. “[Non-binary people] should be able to use whatever bathroom they want.”
Tisch junior Sam Morris said that whatever steps that are needed to make students feel safe, regardless of gender identity, should be taken.
“People should respect their identity,” Morris said. “You should always be made to feel safe and comfortable, no matter your gender.”
Lowe says they hope other studios will follow suit if Pearl Studios makes the changes.
“They’ll be setting an example for all the other studios that this is how an artistic professional setting should be set up,” Lowe said.
Pearl Studios did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.
Email Jesse Jimenez at [email protected]