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University administration approves proposal for gender-inclusive washroom

By Chris Adams, November 27 2014 —

University of Calgary administration approved a Students’ Union proposal to build a multi-stall gender-inclusive washroom on campus Friday, Nov. 28.

The gender-inclusive washroom — bathrooms not specifically for men or women — will replace the mens washroom between the conference rooms and the SU Q Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity office on MacHall’s second floor.

SU vice-president student life Jonah Ardiel presented the proposal to U of C vice-provost student experience Susan Barker, Campus Security director Brian Sembo and executive director of risk Rae Ann Aldridge. He said they’re on board with the new proposal, calling it a “big win” for the U of C.

“It has everything that we wanted. It has everything that the trans community wants. This project is underway now,” Ardiel said.

Barker said administration supports the proposal, citing successful gender-inclusive washrooms at the University of Victoria and the University of Alberta.

“We have a broad range of community members. By creating the gender-inclusive washroom, I think it gives the signal that they belong here. The gender-inclusive washroom is a respectful, accessible and inclusive amenity for our community,” Barker said.

The SU’s proposal states that “at the University of Calgary, our queer, non-binary gender expressing and transgender (trans) students do not have access to washrooms that are specifically gender-inclusive.”

The Q Centre has advocated for a gender-inclusive washroom on campus for a year and a half.  Ardiel said administration had pushed back multiple meetings, expressing security, location and design concerns.

Administration initially wanted floor-to-ceiling partitions between stalls, but the approved proposal calls for regular open-ended stalls. Administration also had concerns about the washroom’s proximity to the Den.

Q Centre coordinator Leah Schmidt said it took a long time to get approved because they didn’t want to make concessions.

“We wanted multi-stall, we wanted it to be open and available all the time. We wanted it to be gender inclusive and we wanted to reno an existing washroom,” Schmidt said. “Basically, the university wanted it to be either single stall or floor to ceiling walls in between each stall. Or they wanted it locked at 4 p.m. every day. We didn’t want to concede anything.”

According to a UCLA School of Law study on transgender people who use gender-segregated washrooms, 68 per cent of trans people were told they were in the wrong bathroom, threatened or gawked at. The study found that nine per cent of transgender people were sexually or physically assaulted because they used a gender-segregated washroom.

Q Centre coordinator Leah Schmidt said having no multi-stall gender-inclusive washrooms limits the options for marginalized students on campus. She said the U of C has a pretty large percentage of transgender, gender non-conforming and gender queer students.

“If they go into a gendered washroom, there’s a significant risk to themselves,” Schmidt said. “In general, if you look masculine of centre and you go into a women’s washroom, it’s probably not going to bode well for you.”

The only gender-neutral washrooms on campus now are single-stall, which Ardiel said sends the wrong message.

“You have to close the door when you enter. It sends the message that they’re not welcome,” Ardiel said.

The new washroom will have multiple stalls and divided urinals, just like pre-existing bathrooms.

There’s no deadline for when it will open, but Schmidt said the SU will renovate the washroom over the winter semester with the intent to open it in September 2015. Ardiel said the washroom will be finished as soon as possible.

The first year will be a pilot phase. Administration will monitor the washroom for safety and security concerns over the year to see if it’s successful.



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