Gender specific washrooms and change rooms, facilities that are designated for use by a single gender only, often fail to accommodate gender variant members of the Queen’s University community. Both the Ontario Human Rights Commission policy and human rights decisions are clear that people in the process of transitioning have a right to use the facilities designed for members of their felt gender, so on the face of it, one may wonder what is the problem. There are two problems. One is that, as our understanding of gender grows and changes, there are increasing numbers of individuals who actually do not accept or identify in the gender binary—that is, they do not identify as being male or female, man or woman. The legal system is only just beginning to catch up with that issue, but there is another, more practical issue at work as well: gender specific washrooms can result in instances of harassment and violence towards those perceived by others as not being of the specified gender. Without the existence of gender neutral facilities, these individuals have no choice but to use gender specific washrooms – an experience that can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, hurtful, frightening, and dangerous.
A sub-committee of the Positive Space Program, called the Transgender/Transsexual Policy Group, researched this question, looking at how other campuses have responded to it and at the availability of gender-neutral washrooms at Queen’s. With support from The Council on Employment Equity and the Senate Educational Equity Committee, they developed a policy which the Human Rights Office brought forward. It states:
The University shall ensure the existence of at least one gender neutral washroom (or change room with shower, where appropriate, as in residences and athletic facilities) on every floor (where washrooms exist) of every newly constructed or significantly renovated building on campus. Further, the University shall repurpose all single-user, gender specific washrooms into gender neutral facilities as funding becomes available.
All such facilities must include signage that makes it absolutely clear that they are not restricted by gender.
Getting it implemented, of course, will take a bit longer….