Universities heed the call for genderless washrooms
Move is in response to students who say they don't belong exclusively to either sex
By CAROLINE ALPHONSO
Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - Page A3
There are washrooms for men and washrooms for women. And, coming soon to a university campus near you will be washrooms for those who don't limit themselves to either category.
Under a new initiative to provide equitable services, student unions of at least two Canadian universities -- Concordia and Simon Fraser -- are in talks with their administrations about where to build special washrooms this fall for the transgender population on campus. And at McGill University, a gender-neutral washroom is being designed for the first floor of the student centre. Renovations to the building are expected to be completed by the end of the academic year.
"To many, access is narrowly defined as a wheelchair ramp and a wheelchair-accessible toilet within a gender-segregated washroom. This definition of access simply does not reflect the reality for many students on this campus," said Brianna Hersey, a vice-president at the Students' Society of McGill University in Montreal.
Gone would be the pictogram on the door, replaced by the word "washroom." And instead of a handful of stalls, it would be a single-unit washroom.
It's rare, but not impossible to find single-room washrooms, in small restaurants, for example. But student unions say they have felt increased pressure from transgender students to build specific gender-neutral washrooms on university grounds. Being transgender is defined as having personal characteristics that go beyond traditional gender boundaries and sexual norms. Some transgender people may have undergone surgery to become a member of the opposite sex.
"There's enough of a need that we even have the Transgender Alliance, which is a group on our campus that does advocacy work, and runs workshops," said Brianna, who is a gender-variant student, not committed to a specific gender. The Transgender Alliance has about 15 members, Brianna said. (Some members of the transgender community choose not to use honorifics with their names.)
Younger people tend to embrace change, and university campuses are usually where new ideas, such as gender-neutral washrooms, can take root, said Barbara Warren of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York. "I think it's absolutely fabulous," she said. "They're creating a safe place for trans-people."
At McGill, the first-floor of the new student centre building will have a washroom for transgender students to use with "ease and dignity," Brianna said. It's also for disabled students and parents with babies.
The Transgender Alliance and Queer McGill were among the groups who appealed for these facilities.
But not all students are welcoming the idea.
At Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., one student complained to the student newspaper, The Peak, that gender-neutral washrooms are a waste of university funds, especially when tuition fees are going up significantly in the province.
"It is moronic ideas like that that raise tuition, ladies, gentleman and everything in between. The university has far better things to do with its money than make sure that transgender people have a warm and happy place to go . . .," the student wrote in a letter to the editor.
Not so, said Louis Julig, a transgender student and the internal relations officer at the Simon Fraser Student Society. The costs would be minimal because the university would have to pay only to put locks on the main doors of a washroom and change the signs outside, he said.
The university's human rights co-ordinator is working with the student government to determine how many washrooms would need to be changed on campus to make it more trans-friendly. One residence on campus already has gender-neutral washrooms, Louis said. But the ones around campus wouldn't be as large.
The idea came about after a student asked where someone would go to the bathroom if they didn't fit into either gender category. "We realized there was nowhere. SFU has the duty to accommodate undue hardship," said Louis, who said he feels uncomfortable using a gender-specific washroom.
How large is the transgender population at Simon Fraser? "It doesn't really matter," Louis said. "If there was one student this would be necessary. It's a public service that should be provided to all students."
Brent Farrington, a student union vice-president at Concordia University in Montreal, said the seventh floor of a building is being renovated for student clubs, and the union is putting together a proposal for a gender-neutral washroom for transgender students.
I guess it's not surprising having transgender washrooms now with the world we live in right?
I got this email through the president of my student government as i am on the board of directors as well.