By Badri Murali
The Ryerson Trans Collective announced on Oct. 22 that the first and second floors of Oakham House, attached to the Student Campus Centre (SCC), will undergo renovations for all-gender bathrooms.
The second floor bathrooms at the SCC have temporarily been labeled (as of Oct. 26) as all-gender bathrooms, while construction on the permanent Oakham House bathrooms is set to start in December and is expected to be completed by March 2016.
The projected costs of the project haven’t been released yet, according to SCC general manager Jennifer Stacey. But a renovation this summer that was sparked by flooding on the third floor of the SCC cost $332,822. The renovation will be paid for by SCC management out of its operating budget, largely based off of a $30 per-student, per-semester levy the Palin Foundation collects from tuition.
Markus Harwood-Jones, who also goes by Star, is a Trans Student Collective co-ordinator. Harwood-Jones uses “they” and “he” pronouns.
“It was a long time coming and I’m glad that all students, regardless of gender, will at least have some space where they can use the bathrooms without any concern,” Harwood-Jones said.
Currently, the two bathrooms on each floor are separate. After construction is completed, there will be one bathroom for each floor. The bathroom on the first floor will be a universal single-stall bathroom, with a strong focus on accessibility. There will be mobility devices and an adult changing table that uses hydraulics to adjust the height. The bathroom on the second floor will be all-gender, with accessible single-stall washrooms but no changing table. The new bathrooms will also install emergency buttons.
“Right now there are more than 40 unisex, single-stall washrooms across the university and we’re in the process of creating new gender-neutral signs for these washrooms,” Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said.
“We’ve heard the concerns of the Trans Collective and we’re doing what we can to accommodate them,” he said. “We’re currently reviewing all washrooms on campus for the purpose of accessibility as well as feasibility to create gender-neutral washrooms.”
Work on the all-gender bathroom campaign started when the Trans Collective, one of the six equity centres of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), was formed in September 2014.
The collective’s coordinators Harwood-Jones and Pina Newman have been working on the all-gender bathrooms since then. RSU vice-president equity Rabia Idrees said the union’s role is to keep supporting the efforts of the Trans Collective and giving Harwood-Jones a leadership role in the project.
“This isn’t just a win for the trans community, but it’s a win for every community,” she said.
The collective will start an educational campaign this month to inform students about these bathrooms.
“We’re going to release posters … explaining what all-gender bathrooms are and also create a resource on the university’s website about them,” Harwood-Jones said. “We’ll also send emails to students explaining these bathrooms and why the work that the collective does is important.”
Andrea Bartlett, president of the RSU, said that she’s excited at the amount of collaboration between different unions and the university administration to build the all-gender bathrooms.
“I think it’s fantastic, especially because we have the Trans Collective, the Centre for Women and Trans People but we don’t have true gender-neutral bathrooms in the campus centre and that’s a shame,” Bartlett said.
Ryerson alumna Jade Richette, who now works at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), said the most unique aspect of the bathrooms is that they won’t only be for all genders, but will also be accessible. Richette also helped to establish the all-gender washrooms at the CLGA.
The movement for neutral bathrooms in Canada began with “some accessibility, trans and feminist women’s groups in the ‘90s getting together saying that we need to make washrooms accessible for everybody,” Richette said.
Harwood-Jones added that this campaign is very personal for him.
“I understand that it takes time, energy and money to make change. But for trans students like myself … it’s challenging to be at this level of advocacy just for the basic human right of being able to use a facility,” Harwood-Jones said.
With files from Farnia Fekri and Keith Capstick.