Finding a gender-neutral washroom in an older building at the University of British Columbia can still be a daunting task for some on campus.
The university has made several efforts to increase the numbers of gender-neutral washrooms. Almost all buildings on campus already have single-user washrooms and all that really needs to change are the signs.
Yet even that has been slow to change in older buildings, leaving people who require a gender-neutral stall without an appropriate option.
Shoshana Messinger, a fourth-year student and volunteer at UBC’s Pride Collective, said they notice some of their trans co-workers still can’t find inclusive washrooms in some older campus buildings.
“It almost just determines people’s lives in a way that people who are able to go into gendered bathrooms, and feel comfortable doing that, don’t have to think about,” Messinger said.
Newer buildings on campus are automatically constructed with gender-neutral washrooms. In older buildings, it is up to the individual department to change the signage for existing single-user washrooms. Even that takes time because of the paperwork required to start the process and money required for the changes, says Rachel Sullivan, who works in the equity and inclusion office at UBC.
Sullivan said, once in the queue, the speed of the sign change depends on the capacity of UBC building operations.
Staff at building operations said only a small number of departments have requested sign changes. Yet less than five per cent of the individual toilets on the UBC campus have gender-inclusive labelling.
A map of the existing ones can be found on the Positive Spaces Campaign website.
Simple fixes to increase inclusive spaces
Steve Mulligan, an education professor and co-ordinator of SOGI UBC (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Inclusive Education), took steps to put in place gender-neutral signage on single-stall bathrooms previously reserved for men in the Neville Scarfe building two years ago.
“I think that facilities such as washrooms are a human right for people […] to be safe, to feel respected, and to live authentically,” he said.
Getting the signage changed was a simple process, he said. He thinks a couple of simple tweaks could increase the number of gender-neutral washrooms across campus.
Instead of placing the onus on individual departments, it would be easier to instruct all the facilities managers to simply change the signs on all single-user washrooms, Mulligan says. “Just take off the little man or woman symbol and put a symbol of a toilet.”
He also said UBC should establish a small fund to pay for the much-needed change in all buildings on campus. UBC staff wouldn’t disclose the cost of changing a sign on a single user washroom.
UBC has made several efforts to put inclusion at the forefront in recent years, including a 2016 policy change to protect gender identity and expression.