BU flush with gender-neutral washrooms

September 3, 2015

Corinne Mason, assistant professor in Brandon University’s gender and women’s studies and sociology departments, is happy with the creation of gender-neutral washrooms on campus. (Bruce Bumstead/Brandon Sun)

By Jillian Austin, Brandon Sun

Brandon University is the latest Canadian campus to embrace gender-neutral washrooms for students and faculty.

Just in time for the 2015-2016 school year, the university has established 14 single-stall, accessible washrooms, in addition to the one already available in the Healthy Living Centre.

“I am very proud of the university for listening to student and faculty concerns, seeking out expertise from the LGBTTQ* community, and prioritizing the creation of washrooms where all people, regardless of gender identity or expression, are welcome to enter and use the facilities free of harassment and violence,” said Corinne Mason, assistant professor in BU’s gender and women’s studies and sociology departments.

The gender-neutral washrooms are part of the university’s Positive Space initiative, which was spearheaded by Mason last year. The goal of Positive Space is to make everyone feel respected and supported, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Following a consulting process over the past several months, single-stalled, accessible washrooms were identified across the campus and recommendations were provided to the university.

“At other universities, students are fighting really, really hard to have these put into place, and often university administrators are saying ‘no,’” Mason said. “Ours said ‘yes’ right away … It has been a really, really wonderful process.”

Rune Breckon, LGBT* program facilitator with the Sexuality Education Resource Centre, consulted on the project with Mason.

“Many queer and trans* folks experience severe access problems when it comes to sex-segregated facilities like restrooms, and as a result, individuals avoid using them, which can have lifelong impacts on a person’s health and well-being,” Breckon said, adding the gender-neutral washrooms will enhance queer and trans* individuals’ campus experiences, as well as others with health needs, parents with children and people with disabilities.

“This is a wonderful achievement of the Positive Space campaign.”
The sign on the new washrooms at BU include braille and have the symbols for accessibility, male, female, and gender-neutral. It was designed after looking at universities across Canada, including the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba.

“We chose the best sign we thought was the most universal,” Mason said.

The problem with sex-segregated washrooms is that not everyone feels comfortable using them, Mason said, and can face discrimination and harassment.

“So what happens with a variety of students … is that they will not use any washroom at all while they’re on campus,” she said. “They’ll return to their residence hall to use the washroom in between classes, which is often a long trek … or they won’t eat and drink while they’re on campus in order to not have to use the washroom.”

The gender-neutral washrooms will address this health concern, as well as the social justice issue.

“Going to the washroom is a really a basic human right of everyone, and it doesn’t allow our students to study, to come to classes, to be comfortable on classes, to stay on campus, so it seems really simple, but it’s a really big deal,” she said.

Positive Space is a successful initiative at universities across Canada in raising the visibility and awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer and questioning, intersex, and asexual issues and concerns, while also establishing safer and more welcoming spaces for students, staff and faculty.

As part of orientation on Sept. 8, new students will be getting Positive Space training, which will include the basics of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. A workshop called Consent is Sexy will be held which ties into the new Yes Means Yes campaign on campus that aims to educate students about consent and respect in sexual relationships as a preventative measure against sexual assault.

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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 3, 2015