Peeing in peace: Gender neutral washrooms on campus

By in Opinions

Gender neutral washrooms are a topic that has been debated at the University of Saskatchewan’s University Students’ Council. While their implementation is being contested, the right step moving forward is to provide gender neutral washrooms across the U of S campus.

With three quarters of American transgender students reporting that they feel unsafe in their school community, it can be assumed that some of those feelings are rooted in the use of washrooms. According to a 2013 Williams Institute Report, roughly 70 per cent of transgender people have reported being denied entrance, assaulted or harassed while trying to use the restroom.

What can we do about this overwhelming amount of negativity being perpetuated against transgender people in public washrooms? Well, one proposed solution is creating gender neutral washrooms. In fact, this issue is already being discussed by the USC at the U of S.

I spoke with Jack Saddleback, president of the U of S Students’ Union, about the implementation of gender neutral washrooms on campus, particularly in the Place Riel Student Centre.

Although the USSU is very optimistic about creating these washrooms, there are a few concerns, the largest being finances.

“Unfortunately, because of lack of funds, we are unable to put gender neutral washrooms on the second floor of Place Riel. However, there will be signs posted indicating that there are wheelchair accessible, gender neutral washrooms on the third floor, as well as the USSU office’s washroom will be changed to a gender neutral washroom, and will be open for public use,” Saddleback said.

Although this is a huge step in the right direction for the U of S, I believe that these gender neutral washrooms should be implemented campus-wide, not just in Place Riel. Providing safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals is extremely important for their safety and well-being.

One of the arguments that tends to persist is that if we create gender neutral washrooms on school campuses and in other public spaces, transgender people are likely to harass others who are not transgender. However, this is not the potential problem people make it out to be.

Vincent Villano, the director of communications for the National Center for Transgender Equality, says that the NCTE have, “not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom. Those who claim otherwise have no evidence that this is true and use this notion to prey on the public’s stereotypes and fears about transgender people.”

An overall panic seems to be on the rise lately, with several states in the United States — including Arizona and Kentucky — enacting “bathroom bills” to keep transgender people from using the washroom that aligns with their gender identity.

A transgender person is not going into the washroom for any other reason than the fact that they have bodily functions, like any other person.

By treating transgender people as if they have ulterior motives for using the washroom, we make them not want to use public bathrooms for fear of being looked at strangely or worse, assaulted.

In fact, during a lecture I attended on Sept. 30, 2015 in my Psychology 227: Human Sexuality class by Jai Richards, a transgender psychologist in Saskatoon, Richards said that transgender people are more likely to have bladder infections and other issues as a direct result of avoiding public washrooms at all costs for fear of this type of discrimination.

All people deserve a safe space to use the washroom, no matter their gender. I am happy about the changes that the USSU is beginning to make at the U of S and I am looking forward to seeing gender neutral washrooms widespread all across the campus in the future.

Kay-Lynne Collier