Gender-neutral washroom stalled

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UR Pride still hopes to go forward with project in the future

Sophie Long
News Writer

Gender-neutral washrooms have become a growing concern for some students at the University of Regina.

The washrooms would be built to create a safe space for transgender students to use without being forced to choose between simply male and female.    

Gender-neutral washrooms have been requested in several universities across Canada, but the University of Western Ontario is the only one to have made the idea a reality, opening 10 genderless washrooms across campus in 2008.

The Voice of Students slate, who were voted in as the University of Regina Students’ Union executive this April, had promised to implement gender-neutral washrooms in the Voice of Students’ policy document during this year’s URSU elections. The policy stated, “URSU-operated spaces, such as the Owl, would be examined immediately to determine if genderless washrooms could be installed.” However, “immediately” has become eventually, as there are no current plans for URSU to install gender-neutral washrooms.

UR Pride has chosen to focus on their Positive Space project for now, expecting gender-neutral washrooms to become a bigger issue once the Positive Space is established.

“Although it would be wonderful to see this happen now, that's not how these things work,” said Lisa Smith, UR Pride executive director. “It might not even happen in the next year. You have to think realistic, especially with big social changes like this.”

The gender-neutral washrooms would make life easier for some students, but there are those opposed to the washrooms, too. Some students say they would feel uncomfortable using the gender-neutral washrooms as a non-transgendered person for fear of being labeled. Some students fear that these washrooms will become spaces for more than just safe places to answer the call of nature.

“People will start to abuse the fact that anyone can go in there,” said a U of R student who wished to remain anonymous. “What if a guy and a girl both use the bathroom to hook up?”

UR Pride is slowly beginning research on gender-neutral washrooms.

“We will do our best to accommodate people who disagree with gender neutral washrooms by having information next to the gender-neutral washroom explaining why it exists, with a map next to the washrooms letting them know where non-gender neutral washrooms are,” Smith said.

However, the majority of students seem to find no problem with the genderless washrooms.

“As long as there’s only one stall, it’s cool,” said a U of R first-year student who wished to remain anonymous.

“An extra washroom couldn’t hurt. If there’s a lineup for one, I wouldn’t have a problem using a genderless washroom,” said another U of R student who wished to remain anonymous.

There are currently no locations in Regina with gender-neutral washrooms . There are a few in Manitoba, with more washrooms available in bigger cities across the country, such as Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Quebec. Websites such as safe2pee.org have been created in an attempt to help those uncomfortable choosing a gender to find accessible washrooms.

The University of Winnipeg has lobbied for gender-neutral washrooms in the past few years, asking for just one bathroom in a central location. Smith believes the University of Regina would benefit from more than one gender-neutral washrooms.

“Ideally, we would love to have at least one gender-neutral – and not handicap accessible; these are two different things – bathroom in each building,” she said. “This would mean a minimum of 10 bathrooms built to accommodate transgender individuals.” 

Both Smith and Peterson make distinctions regarding gender-neutral washrooms. Smith insists that genderless washrooms are “not handicap-accessible” ones, suggesting that current accessible washrooms would not be simply renovated to become genderless and handicap-accessible washrooms, as some might expect. Rather, gender-neutral washrooms would be built with the intent to create bathrooms for those who don’t identify with one gender.

Peterson makes a similar distinction. “It is important to note that genderless washrooms are not the same as unisex washrooms.” Essentially, this makes the same statement that gender-neutral washrooms would have their own purpose. However, the difference between unisex washrooms and gender-neutral washrooms is less clear. A unisex washroom would be one that both women and men could use, which is essentially what the gender-neutral washrooms would be. However, Peterson is insisting that gender-neutral bathrooms are only to be used by transgendered students.

Although UR Pride is aware gender-neutral bathrooms may not be on URSU’s immediate to-do list, it is still an issue they are passionate about, and Smith insists this must be dealt with carefully. 

“It must be stated again and again that we need to do research into it to make sure that what we are doing is going to work,” she said. “We have to work with administration and find middle ground that will make everyone happy. And because I don’t know any large, public, hetero-normative buildings that have done this well, we will have to research before moving on,” Smith said.

Smith concluded by reinforcing UR Pride’s passion regarding the issue.

“We are past the stage of getting people worked up,” she said. “It's been done. As much as protesting. working people up, standing up, and pushing issues is important, this isn't about that. It is about real people having accessible public spaces”.

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