New gender neutral bathrooms throughout campus are helping create a safer environment for students who identify outside the gender binary.
When asked how sie* felt with the change, one student replied with “Ecstatic.”
“That is something I was fighting in my high school the entire time I was there,” says Emily Falder, a VIU student who identifies sierself as non-binary. “I’ve been mentioning it to staff for a while.”
Signage for the 22 single occupant bathrooms was unveiled on Monday after being pushed forward by the Positive Space committee at VIU. The change was instantly noticed, and feedback was largely positive. Some wondered why the change was needed, and Falder was all too willing to explain.
“A majority of bathrooms are gendered male or female. There are a number of students, like myself, who are non-binary, who don’t feel comfortable using either bathroom. There are also trans students who feel uncomfortable going into the bathroom they identify with because they face a lot of discrimination. And they don’t want to go into the washroom they don’t identify with because they’re misgendering themselves. Speaking from experience, that does not feel good.”
With a little over one percent of BC’s population identifying themselves as transgender, it is an issue that is coming more and more to light in the province. Recently, students at Simon Fraser University staged a protest regarding gendered bathrooms and the lack of gender neutral options available on campus. Here at VIU, it was the Positive Space group that saw the idea of gender neutral bathrooms through.
“A couple years ago, there was a discussion in the realms of the Positive Space committee about the need for safe spaces for students who do not fit or place themselves in the gender binary,” Positive Space steering committee member Kelly Muir said. On Monday, March 2, this was realized, and the signs were installed.
A couple days later, it was brought to members’ attention that printed signs had been added to some of the bathrooms around campus, claiming “Women only.”
Michael Olson, also a steering committee member of Positive Space, feels it was a lack of communication.
“Everyone (within Positive Space) saw this as a good idea; it all made sense to us,” he said, “What we recognize is that we missed the education piece with staff, community members, and students on what this change means, what it indicates and why. In hindsight, we see that not everyone knows what that sign means or why it’s there.”
Both Olson and Muir stressed that it was only if the information was presented but gendering signs still went up that it was an issue of individuals being bigots. If students feel this is happening, they are advised to contact Katrin Roth von Szepesbéla of The Human Rights and Respectful Workplace. There, students can file a report of discrimination. But Olson hopes that after information is presented to the general public, the gender neutral bathrooms will be accepted and more steps can be taken to making VIU an inclusive environment.
“People, be it staff or student, come from all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences,” said Olson, “We are not just men and women identified people, and we are working towards making that change.”
“It was a big day when those signs went up, and that feeling of them being recognized,” adds Muir. “And we want this to keep going in that positive direction.”
When asked what they wanted to see next, both Muir and Olson, along with Emily Falder, say they want to see if some multi-stalled bathrooms can become gender neutral.
“It’s a big deal,” says Falder. “Most don’t think it is, but it is important to some people.”
*Sie/sier/sierself are pronouns used to identify instead of assumed gender pronouns (such as she/her/herself).