Monday, December 11, 2017

One door for all: The Camosun College Pride Collective is leading the way for gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms at Camosun

January 20, 2016 by Jayden Grieve, contributing writer

The Camosun College Pride Collective is currently working on a proposal that would see the implementation of gender-neutral washrooms on both campuses. Gender-neutral, also known as gender-inclusive, washrooms are washrooms that can be used by those who identify as male, female, or outside the gender binary. This would be good news for transgender students, who, because they do not necessarily identify with their assigned sex, may feel uncomfortable or unsafe using either the male or female bathrooms.

With more of the trans community coming out, this proposal is more relevant than ever, says Camosun College Student Society pride director Lillian Stearns-Smith.

“The visibility of the trans community is growing,” says Stearns-Smith. “As the acceptance grows, then so, naturally, will the amount of people who feel comfortable with showing the world who they really are.”

Though their visibility has increased and people are beginning to listen to what they have to say, the issues of the trans community are often pushed to the bottom of the LGBTQ+ agenda, says Stearns-Smith. But with the leaps and bounds made in progress for the queer community, more focus has begun to shift to trans issues.

“I think a lot of things are unnecessarily gendered and it is forcing the gender binary,” says Stearns-Smith. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable in the gender binary, but previously, and, honestly, currently, they don’t have a lot of options as to where they can go.”

Stearns-Smith says that the Pride Collective is committed to providing those options. In fact, this is part of the reason why the collective was set up in the first place.

“This is very close to the Pride Collective’s heart. We want to provide these facilities for people who don’t have anywhere to go, or don’t feel safe in their spots,” says Stearns-Smith. “The ideal situation would be that people wouldn’t have to walk all the way across campus to find a washroom they’re comfortable using.”

Camosun conversion

There are still those who don’t support trans people, and Stearns-Smith says forcing trans people to go to a place they don’t feel comfortable with or making them open up to people who may not be accepting of them is very unfair. The Pride Collective has already begun talks with Camosun’s Facilities Services to see what can be done.

“Facilities Services definitely supports the project,” says associate director of facilities services Brian Calvert. “There are some logistics around it, but we’re willing to look at their ideas and how they want to come up with this. It’s something that, in today’s society, needs to be considered and supported.”

Calvert says that although this project is a long time coming, it will likely not happen as quickly as some may hope. A lot of consideration and work has to be put into projects like this, and with the new trades building at Interurban still in the works, Facilities Services doesn’t have the time or the people to get down to the details right away.

Camosun College currently has single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms (photo by Jill Westby/Nexus).

Camosun College currently has single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms (photo by Jill Westby/Nexus).

“It would be a lot easier if we were putting them in a new facility and designed them that way, but we are looking at existing buildings, and there are code implications for washrooms,” says Calvert. “It’s time that we address the issue and move forward with it. We just have to look at all the variations of how to make it successful and see how we can achieve it.”

Camosun Computer Science Technology student and Pride Collective member Luka Hilchey helped to get the ball rolling on this project. Hilchey outlines one of the options that the Pride Collective is considering.

“We are looking into converting single-user bathrooms,” says Hilchey. “Basically, what that means is changing the signage on those so that instead of being for strictly staff or strictly people with disabilities, they’d also be for people who wouldn’t feel comfortable in the male/female bathrooms.”

This is the quicker and easier option and carries a low-to-no cash-investment requirement. The other option is to convert a larger set of male/female washrooms into a set of multi-user washrooms (or one very large one), which is what has happened at UVic.

Either way, Hilchey says that this has been a long time coming and should happen as soon as possible.

“There’s one at Vancouver Island University, there’s one at UVic; in Vancouver there’s a whole bunch of places,” says Hilchey. “I think that the Camosun staff and students do care about this, there just hasn’t been a concentrated effort to actually get it done. The Pride directors had previously tried to do it and for whatever reason there wasn’t the same effort behind it, so it didn’t end up getting done.”

Indeed, this is a cause that was championed by past Pride directors, but each moved on from the collective before anything concrete could be done. It’s something that the Pride Collective stands behind; it’s simply a matter of the right push.

“When I joined the Pride Collective two years ago it was sort of being generally talked about,” says Stearns-Smith. “After the previous Pride director left it kind of calmed down a bit, and it was something that I had sitting on the back burner and was hoping to eventually bring forward. Fortunately, a couple other members of the collective got really excited about it, brought it to the forefront, and we started working on it.”

UVic leads the way

UVic Pride members Tri Nguyen (the office coordinator) and Selina Beltran (the postsecondary outreach coordinator) both think of the gender-neutral washroom as a great accomplishment for the students of UVic. A few years ago, when they started working on it, a lot of research had to be done to decide whether or not this was a feasible option.

“It was a very long process because we had to do a lot of research,” says Nguyen. “We had to do student surveys, we did surveys of staff who work in the building, we did a lot of that sort of research to start with and then we did a report on the attitudes of the students that are using the building and how students and staff would be receptive of using the washrooms.”

The responses to these surveys were mostly positive. Some issues were brought up about religious groups who would not be comfortable with the practice, but the converted bathrooms would be only two of many bathrooms on campus that students could choose from. There were also a few other complaints, says Nguyen.

“Most of the comments I received were things like, ‘I don’t want to poop next to a girl,’ or, ‘I don’t want to make poop noises next to someone whom I would be attracted to,’” says Nguyen.

Nguyen says that for members of the LGBTQ+ community this is not really an issue. The UVic bathroom has been in place for over two years, and is used regularly without complaint. Beltran says that this is a really big step for students, and they hope to see more of it in the future.

“There’s not currently a plan to convert more, but it would be really awesome to have gender-neutral washrooms in every building on campus,” says Beltran. “The thing about gendered washrooms is that, personally, for me, I can’t go in them, ever. I’m genderqueer; I look different. People try to kick me out of washrooms. If I’m in [UVic’s] MacLaurin building I have to walk all the way across campus to the SUB to find a gender-neutral bathroom.”

Both Pride members say they are happy that Camosun has decided to join this movement, and they would like to help in any way they can. With a little work they think that it can be done with minimal costs.

“It’s just changing signs,” says Nguyen. “Literally, it’s just signs. They’re still toilets.”

Student support

Both Camosun and UVic students seem very open to the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms. UVic Marine Biology student Fabrizio Abate says that although this isn’t something that would happen in their own country they are fine with using the washroom next to a girl.

Female students also seem to be accepting of the idea.

“I think gender-neutral washrooms are really great,” says UVic Sociology and Social Justice student Alicia Cattermole. “It creates space for everyone and makes people comfortable about going to the bathroom.”

Cattermole says that she commonly uses the washrooms in the SUB and has never found it to be particularly strange. She recounts the first time she had an encounter with a man in the bathroom.

“He walked out of the urinal as I was walking into the stall and we just kind of looked at each other and smiled; it wasn’t an awkward situation,” says Cattermole. “At first it feels different, but once you look at each other and recognize that it’s normal, you forget that it was ever different.”

Students at Camosun seem to feel the same.

“I think gender-neutral bathrooms are a great idea,” says first-year Criminal Justice student Aurora Bilodeau. “All students deserve to feel comfortable in their school environment.”

The issue of gender-neutral bathrooms is a very important issue for some Camosun students. “I find it hard to decide what washroom to use,” says first-year Camosun Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology-Renewable Energies student Winter Hawkmoon. “I don’t feel welcome in either, so much so that I would wait until I arrived at work or home. If this is how I feel, I’d hate to imagine how other trans and non-binary folk feel if they aren’t out of the closet.”

Often in these situations it is people who are not transgender who are making these decisions, and they may not understand the full extent of how it affects the students in question, says Hawkmoon. She says that it is time for change.

“We need to stop thinking about the problems this might cause,” she says, “and look at the problems it will fix.”

So where does Camosun College sit in regard to actually implementing a gender-neutral washroom? The Pride Collective is currently collecting ideas and intends to meet with Facilities Services soon to present some ideas and make some decisions on how to move forward with the issue.

“It seems like single-stall is more promising,” says Stearns-Smith. “At this point we’re not quite sure yet which washrooms would become gender neutral, but we are talking to the Disability Resource Centre as well as Camosun about maybe repurposing some less-used single-stalls. It’s pretty up in the air; nothing is finalized.”

Stearns-Smith goes on to say that although converting some of the lesser-used single-stall washrooms around the school will be a step in the right direction, it is not ideal.

“The single-stall, basically nothing changes,” says Stearns-Smith. “You take a gendered sign off and then you put a gender-neutral sign on. Nothing changes as far as what you have to put inside them, nothing changes as far as you walking into the washroom and seeing someone of the opposite sex, nothing changes. It’s very, very easy to integrate. Of course, it also has no impact as far as getting this issue out there because… nothing changes.”

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