There are many misconceptions about gender-neutral washrooms, but what people don’t know is that they benefit everyone regardless of gender. Gender-neutral washrooms specifically help transgender and gender non-conforming people feel safe to go to the bathroom in public when gendered washrooms may feel dangerous. Because of the misconceptions surrounding gender-neutral washrooms, many people don’t understand the true purpose of them which is simply to make people feel more comfortable using public bathrooms.
Gender-neutral washrooms are able to be used by any gender. They often contain stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls and a shared area for sinks, similar to any other public washroom. Gender-neutral washrooms are still far and few between, but some restaurants in Vancouver have started the initiative of having only one shared gender-neutral washroom for patrons. Edible Canada, a restaurant in downtown Vancouver, is an example of this. They have been praised by customers for their progressive single shared gender-neutral washroom.
Riverside Secondary teacher Ms. Sheri Thomasen says, “I think if you open a new business or renovate then it should be a priority.”
It is often thought that gender-neutral washrooms only benefit people who are transgender or gender non-conforming, which is not true. Gender-neutral washrooms benefit everyone regardless of gender. These washrooms mean there are more bathroom options for cisgender people to choose from which also means shorter wait-lines, specifically for women’s washrooms. People with disabilities who may need assistance from someone of another gender may also use the bathroom comfortably. Not to mention, single fathers with daughters benefit from these washrooms. Many people benefit from gender-neutral washrooms, not only people who aren’t cisgender.
“There are so many reasons gender-neutral washrooms are important; not everyone identifies as male or female,” said Thomasen.
Although gender-neutral washrooms benefit everyone, they may be of special importance to transgender and gender non-conforming people. Safety may be an issue for these people when using gendered washrooms. A 2013 survey by The Williams Institute asked transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals about their experiences with gendered washrooms. They found that 68 percent of respondents have experienced verbal harassment while using gendered washrooms, 18 percent have been denied access to washrooms, and nine percent have experienced some form of physical assault while attempting to use a washroom. Seven in 10 people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming have experienced one of these problems. Such a high number is evidence of the threat to their safety while using gendered washrooms.
At Riverside Secondary, it may not be known to some that the school also has a gender-neutral washroom. The LGBTQ+ club were the ones who started the initiative which brought the gender-neutral washrooms to the school in the 2015 – 2016 school year.
Everyone has to be open-minded and recognize that it’s not going to be perfect, but we’re all trying to progress.
Ms. Sheri Thomasen
For those new to the school, the gender-neutral washrooms are located on the left-wing of the school across from room 109. This washroom is occasionally used for the wrong purpose, though. Some students view the gender-neutral washroom as a place to vape with their friends, or to make-out with their significant other. Those uses of the gender-neutral washroom are inappropriate and the activities themselves should not be done during school hours nor on school grounds.
Thomasen commented that as a school we all have to recognize these rules. “I think it’s the school culture. As a culture, we have to understand that vaping shouldn’t happen anywhere, and you can make out somewhere off school property.”
Although Riverside Secondary does have some issues with the gender-neutral washroom, the school is still leaps and bounds ahead of some other places. A few places in America may be considered much farther behind than Riverside Secondary: North Carolina, Washington, Missouri, and others have all passed or attempted to pass laws that require people to use the bathroom of their biological sex. Since then, many of these laws have been appealed.
Riverside Secondary’s gender-neutral washroom demonstrates the progressive and inclusive environment at the school. “Everyone has to be open-minded and recognize that it’s not going to be perfect, but we’re all trying to progress,” said Thomasen.