New 'all-gender' washrooms set to open at University of Ottawa
'We are leaving it up to individuals to use the facility they feel most comfortable with'
Members of the University of Ottawa's social sciences department are in the final stages of setting up two "all-gender" washrooms designed for more than one person at a time — washrooms believed to be the first of their kind in the city.
The two washrooms will be located on the 11th floor of the university's social science building, home to the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies.
"Many of our students are trans, gender queer, or non-binary students. Some of our students also have disabilites that might require them to use the bathroom with an attendant," said Kathryn Trevenen, the institute's interim director and one of the advocates for the new facilities.
"They would really appreciate all-gender bathrooms."
Bathroom access hot topic
Bathroom stalls — and who can use them — have been a heated topic in recent months, particularly since North Carolina legislators passed a bill featuring provisions requiring transgender people to use multi-stall washrooms that align with their biological sex.
For the most part, the University of Ottawa washrooms will resemble the previous traditional bathrooms, aside from new signs and, said Trevenen, stalls that could be extended vertically to give bathroom users more privacy.
The urinals that were in the previously-male bathroom will remain, and there are no plans to add urinals to the other bathroom, Trevenen added.
It's very important ... that we get away from the idea that we are surveilling or policing a particular norm in a bathroom.- Kathryn Trevenen, interim director of the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies
The facilities on the other floors of the 14-storey building remain of the traditional variety, she said.
"It's very important as part of this project, I think, that we get away from the idea that we are surveilling or policing a particular norm in a bathroom," said Trevenen.
"We are leaving it up to individuals to use the facility they feel most comfortable with, in the way they feel most comfortable."
No building code violation: McKenney
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who met with the advocates about city building codes before the bathroom plan went ahead, said she believes the washrooms are the first of their kind in Ottawa.
The Ontario Building Code requires new buildings to have a fifty-fifty ratio of male-to-female bathrooms, said McKenney, but a gender-neutral washroom would not violate that code since anyone could use it.
"The argument is — and I believe I'm right — that that means if they're non-gendered, you have achieved that [ratio]" McKenney said.
McKenney added she would "absolutely" want to pursue the installation of similar washrooms at city buildings.
An 'issue of safety'
As for when the gender-neutral washrooms would open, Trevenen said they're getting final approval from the university's facilities department and hope to have them in place by the start of the 2016-17 academic year.
For now, they remain traditional washrooms — albeit ones with a welcoming, inclusive message taped to the door.
"Transgender, non-conforming, non-binary folks experience an enormously high level of harassment and violence in bathrooms, because of people policing and harassing them according to their gender presentation," said Trevenen.
"This is an issue of safety and protection of our students."
With files from Andrew Foote and Marni Kagan