Gender-neutral Washrooms in Canadian Universities

by February 28, 2013
filed under Activism
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For anyone who has ever used a public restroom, you know that it can be awkward and uncomfortable. For queer, trans or gender ambiguous individuals it can be far worse. Many of these individuals face discrimination when using a gender segregated public washroom. If you don’t look like you fit into the categories that are labeled on the door of the washroom, you could be subject to discrimination and violence. These public facilities can present as obstacles for the very basic of bodily functions.

On February 15th the University of Regina made a progressive step for the LGBTQ community by creating gender-neutral washrooms on campus for individuals of any gender. The former single stall wheelchair accessible washrooms have been transformed by signage that indicates any gender can use the space, while still remaining wheelchair accessible. This university is among many in Canada taking this step to ensure safety and comfort for queer, trans or gender ambiguous persons in their universities. McGill University in Montreal, Quebec has listed the policy and where to find gender-neutral washrooms on campus on their website. Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario is currently doing research on washroom and changeroom policies, mapping out “universal” washrooms.

Within Alberta there have been some excellent steps taken for gender-neutral washrooms in the provinces universities. The University of Calgary has listed on their Student’s Union website a list of gender-neutral washrooms, which is part of the Student Union’s campaign to better trans resources. MacEwan University in Edmonton has many “unisex” and wheelchair accessible washrooms around campus. However, MacEwan University does not have a list of where to find them. Lastly, the University of Alberta has neither a policy, campaign nor official list; though there are a few restrooms that are inclusive to all genders located in the Students’ Union Building. It is important to have a list of gender-neutral washrooms on university campuses, because asking a stranger could subject an individual to the same discrimination they would face when walking into gender-segregated washrooms.

There are different ways to reduce the threat of violence against queer, trans or gender ambiguous folk when it comes to washrooms. Universities should have a policy and educational campaign in place to start the process of introducing gender-neutral washrooms to the campus. For those universities who have policies and campaigns in place with existing gender-neutral washrooms, they should have an available list for their student body. These washrooms are one step in addressing the major problem at hand: Discrimination and violence against individuals whose gender and/or sexuality challenges social norms is pervasive and tacitly accepted in our society.

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