Manitoba

University of Winnipeg student group wants special gym time for women, LGBT people

The University of Winnipeg Students' Association is pushing for the Portage Avenue campus gym to reserve hours for women, members of the LGBT community and people who identify as non-binary — that is, neither male nor female.

Reserving space for women, LGBT, non-binary people will accommodate those who avoid gym, LGBT student rep says

Jacq Pelland says some students feel uncomfortable working out at the University of Winnipeg's Portage Avenue campus gym. (CBC)

The University of Winnipeg Students' Association is pushing for the Portage Avenue campus gym to reserve hours for women, members of the LGBT community and people who identify as non-binary — neither male nor female.

The initiative comes following a survey that gathered thoughts and experiences from students and members of Winnipeg's community who use the Bill Wedlake Fitness Centre at the university.

Jacq Pelland is the LGBT director for the UWSA. She said gym hours open only to women, LGBT and non-binary people is a need that has gone unmet for a long time.

"I had several students approach me within the LGBT centre at the University of Winnipeg campus.… There was a demand for it. I was just unaware of it up until that point," she said.

Pelland said the scope of that need became clear when she spoke with the UWSA's women's director, who said an entire classroom of women in one of her courses echoed what the students Pelland spoke with were saying.

"They felt very uncomfortable accessing the gym services and they either went very infrequently or just not at all," Pelland said.

"[They reported] unwanted staring, comments, flirting [and] approaches."

Pelland said she personally has experienced what the students are describing.

"I've felt stares when I've been working out," she said.

"It's very difficult to concentrate when that is happening. I've heard men make comments under their breath."

While she considers the survey a success — so far more than 218 respondents have participated, 73 per cent of them women — Pelland said reading the responses has been difficult.

"There was one comment in particular," she said.

"This person said … she kept getting approached by men that she'd rejected previously, and so the space started to feel unsafe for her, because they would not leave her alone."

Pelland hopes designating two or three hours, one to three times per week to women, LGBT community members and non-binary people, will make the space feel safe again.

But why ban all men during those hours, rather than take action against those responsible for the harassment?

It's a question Pelland said she's asked often.

"Right now at the University of Winnipeg, there's something called consent culture that we're educating students on in terms of what sexual harassment looks like, what consent looks like," she said.

"So we are doing that piece, and we're still noticing that there's harassment going on."