Co-ed washrooms don't sit well with all UVic students
Published Tuesday, September 11, 2012 10:43AM EDT
Students at the University of Victoria are being taught a lesson in gender equality, but the idea isn't sitting well with everyone.
The University of Victoria Students' Society hopes that two washrooms signposted as "multi-stall, gender inclusive washrooms" at the school's Student Union Building are a step toward the end of discrimination.
Instead of the traditional sign of a stick man or stick woman in a dress on the door, the two formerly gender-segregated washrooms are now flagged with a sign depicting a toilet. The only other changes involved the construction of partitions around urinals in the formerly male-only facilities.
"We believe that it's important people can access public spaces without fear of harassment or discrimination, and that's something we've seen happen in this building," UVic student society chairperson Emily Rogers told CTV British Columbia.
Transgender student Dylyn Wilkinson said he's been asked whether he's in the right place when using segregated facilities in the past.
"And I'm like yes I know. I'm a guy," Wilkinson said.
"We always think that sort of thing doesn't happen here, but unfortunately it still does."
Wilkinson’s experience was echoed in a 2011 study, the Vancouver Island Transgender Needs Assessment, that found 62 per cent of transgendered people surveyed said they avoided using public, segregated washrooms out of fear of being verbally or physically harassed.
Besides targeting violence against transgendered people, the school says such inclusive spaces are also useful for parents and other caregivers looking after individuals of the opposite gender.
Since the washrooms made their debut as gender-inclusive spaces in late August, the student society says it's only received three complaints. All three, filed by two female students and one male, were along the same lines: They don't feel comfortable doing what they have to in a space shared by the opposite gender.
As one female student told CTV British Columbia, it's nothing if not a jarring departure from tradition.
"You spend your entire life being segregated from each other, so it's just really weird," she said.
"I don't think I'd want to go to the bathroom with my (male) friend. It'd just be weird."
But Rogers says students with qualms about using the space are missing the point.
"If folks don't feel comfortable using these spaces, they have other choices," Rogers said, referring to the six other segregated facilities still in operation throughout the building.
"The fact is, that if folks don't feel comfortable using gendered spaces, previously they didn't have a choice."
So far, the washrooms have people talking. And for the student society hoping to inspire a dialogue about how people view gender, that's a good thing.
Several other campuses across Canada, including Montreal’s McGill University and the University of Western Ontario in London, also have one or more de-segregated washroom facilities.
What do you think? Are gender-inclusive washrooms a good idea? Let us know in the comments below.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Andrew Johnson