Joanna Graham — The Manitoban (University of Manitoba)
WINNIPEG (CUP) — As the University of Winnipeg pushes to have gender-neutral washrooms on campus by the end of the academic year, awareness about the issue has been raised by student leaders at the University of Manitoba.
The U of W Students’ Association (UWSA) and the LGBT* Centre had a meeting on Oct. 17 with U of W administration to discuss the issue.
“It was a very positive meeting and we’re incredibly lucky that administration here understands how important it is to make sure that all aspects of the university are inclusive,” said Lauren Bosc, president of UWSA.
She said that since the UWSA board of directors made gender-neutral washrooms one of the top goals for the year, the executive and the LGBT* director have moved forward with making it happen.
Bosc said that the students are currently working on proposals to outline the needs of the washroom.
“We also want to make sure it is wheelchair accessible,” she said. According to Bosc, the issue of gender-neutral washrooms had been raised in 2007 but because of student leader turnover the conversation had “quieted down.”
Bosc said that her goal was to have the implementation of gender-neutral washrooms complete by the end of this school year.
Debra Radi, the U of W executive director of the office for the vice-president academic, said the U of W administration is involved as a collaborator in exploring how gender-neutral washrooms can be implemented.
“If students identify as transgendered, they need to have a safe space where they feel comfortable in terms of meeting a basic need like going to the washroom,” said Radi.
Radi said that she has been working with colleagues in the physical plant department to identify potential locations for the washroom.
Of course, labeling is an important issue for the gender-neutral washrooms.
“I’m in favour of something very discreet such as ‘washroom’ because that’s what it is,” said Ro Mills, director of the U of W LGBT* Centre.
“There’s a need, just in terms of inclusive spaces,” Mills said. “Not everybody falls within the binary of male or female … Everybody should be able to use the washroom with ease and accessibility.”
University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) president Camilla Tapp said she thought the U of W’s push for gender-neutral washrooms is great and UMSU is happy to support the organizers.
Tapp said gender-neutral washrooms have been a long-standing issue on campus. She said UMSU has heard from individual students, the LGBTTQ* representative on UMSU council and from the Rainbow Pride Mosaic (RPM) that the issue needs to be resolved.
“I think it’s definitely worthwhile to have all future construction include gender neutral washrooms, and we would like to see the U of M commit to that,” Tapp said.
The coordinator of the RPM, David Vo, explained that the U of M has unisex washrooms but they aren’t the same as gender-neutral washrooms because the unisex washrooms still have signs that indicate the male and female gender.
“In order for it to be truly gender-neutral, there must not be any signs that indicate males or females,” he said.
Vo said there is only one such washroom on the U of M campus, and suggested the U of M should pursue more gender-neutral washrooms so that students can access them in a variety of places.
“It will allow people to be more open-minded,” he said. “It will also attract more people to the university as that will make it more of an accepting place.”