Dal Allies promote gender-neutral washrooms

Campus advocates for sexual and gender diversity push for increased awareness on the need for gender-neutral washrooms.


A gender-neutral washroom located on the ground floor of the McCain Arts and Science building. Photo: Jodie Shupac

Advocates for sexual and gender diversity at Dalhousie University are pushing to increase awareness for the issue of gender-neutral washrooms on campus.

A gender-neutral washroom is a single-stalled room that can be used by anyone, and is not designated as gender-specific.

This past fall, the student services department conducted a study to assess whether campus buildings were equipped with gender-neutral washrooms. When buildings such as the student union building were found to be lacking, the department pushed for washrooms to be designated as gender-neutral.

The project was headed by Patricia DeMeo, Executive Director of Student Academic Success Services at Dalhousie.

"Awareness of the needs of gender-variant people is fairly recent," DeMeo said.

She said her department faced no resistance from facilities management at the university in pushing to designate more washrooms as gender-neutral.

DeMeo said gender-neutral washrooms can be used by a range of individuals, including those who are not comfortable using multi-stalled washrooms due to health reasons, and that these washrooms should not be associated exclusively with transgendered students.

Dalhousie Allies is a campus group that helps provide services and support for students and staff across the spectrum of sexual and gender diversity.

The Allies have put posters up at Dalhousie's Killam Library, notifying students who are not comfortable using gender-specific washrooms to view the Allies website for a list of gender-neutral washrooms on campus.

Gaye Wishart, Dalhousie advisor for harassment prevention, and spokesperson for the Allies, said she has not been aware of any student complaints about a lack of gender-neutral washrooms. However, increased awareness of the unique needs of transgendered students have prompted the Allies to proactively seek ways to make transgendered students feel more comfortable.

"When we go to panels and talk to trans students, you often hear, ‘all through high school I never used the washroom, just because I didn't feel safe.'"

According to the Allies website, there are currently about 50 gender-neutral washrooms located on campus.

Some of these washrooms are only available for staff, are difficult to find by the general public and are not marked by a sign.

Wishart said there is new-found awareness in the university community to consider gender-neutral washrooms when planning new buildings on campus.

Student perspective

Jake Feldman is a King's student who identifies as genderqueer.

He said that gender-neutral washrooms address both a safety and accessibility issue.

"If you want to get an idea of how limiting the shortage of gender-neutral bathrooms is try this out for a week: Don't use gendered bathrooms...While I don't believe that anyone who isn't trans can exactly know the anxiety that trans people deal with in gendered spaces such as bathrooms, I think that they can at least get an idea of the inconvenience of it all."

Feldman finds that gender-neutral washrooms are limited at Dalhousie, and takes issue with the lack of gender-neutral washrooms at Killam Library.

"While I prefer to do school work on the 5th floor of the Killam, having to put on all my winter stuff and go to the McCain and take 15 minutes just to take a piss is bullshit...the Killam library isn't accessible for me."

Feldman said the Dalhousie Allies' initiative to designate more campus washrooms as gender-neutral is a positive step, but that, "(U)ntil there is one in the Killam the message from the administration will be: ‘hey trans kids, you're welcome to pay us thousands of dollars in tuition, but we don't give a crap about you and don't want to make any effort for you to feel welcome on our campus.'"

DeMeo said there is a gender-neutral washroom located in the student services area of the Killam, near the front entrance of the building, but that the Dalhousie Allies website does not list it - something which should be remedied.

The student services area is an enclosed area comprised of staff offices and desks.

While the gender-neutral washroom within it could technically be used by a student, it is typically only used by the staff who work there. The area also isn't open during evening hours - when many students continue to study at the library.

Both Wishart and DeMeo said the list of gender-neutral washrooms on the Allies' website needs to be further updated, to account for gaps.

Feldman said the need for gender-neutral washrooms is an issue for many trans people, but that, "it is only one issue among many that can affect a trans person's day-to-day experience."


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