“It’s Freedom”: Gender Neutral Washrooms at WCI

Our society constantly feels the urge to label people. Often, we are forced to sort ourselves into two groups based on gender on government forms, sports teams, and of course, when it comes to public washrooms. However, for many, this creates a dilemma where they are forced to choose a gender with which to identify. As a result, public places are now making accommodations by adding gender neutral washrooms, a step we believe is necessary for transgender rights, though it has sparked controversy across the continent.

WCI, along with several other schools in the region, is one of these public places that  has decided to implement single-stall gender neutral washrooms. After learning that there is legislation requiring schools to install a gender neutral washroom upon request, Principal Shortreed gathered staff to discuss installing one in the school before a request was even made. As well, she pointed out that  these washrooms can benefit many other students besides transgender individuals, such as students who struggle with anxiety. Ms. Shortreed said that “once the change is made, it seems to have benefits for others that you don’t even expect.”

Resident Child and Youth Worker, Ms. Gerrie, was another supporter of this movement. Through her work in Student Success, a safe space for students to feel comfortable at school, she knows that transgender students face many issues with discrimination within both our school and larger society. “They’ve said they don’t feel comfortable in either washroom and they really would appreciate a safe space to go,” she shared. “They struggle every day and already maybe get teased or bullied or whatnot, so we just want to make sure they’re comfortable because that’s just one more reason not to come to school.”

We interviewed several students in the cafeteria and almost all said that they would feel more comfortable if a gender neutral washroom was installed at WCI. However, everyone we interviewed was unaware that WCI already has several, particularly in the main office. We discovered that this lack of advertising was entirely unintentional and possibly due to a lack of communication between staff about this sensitive topic.

There has been discussion about surveying the student body to determine the number of students who would benefit from these bathrooms. Ms. Cresswell, one of WCI’s history teachers, made this observation: “I have a real problem with forcing kids to come out […] Why should anyone have to announce anything to anyone? You are who you are and it shouldn’t even be an issue.”

We discovered there are several reasons that people might be resistant to change, including cost, a lack of understanding of transgender issues and rights, a clash of values and beliefs, and concerns of safety. All in all, these can be summed up as a fear of change, especially when it comes to multi-stall gender neutral washrooms. Ms. Shortreed explained, “It can feel unsafe to [parents] that their child might be in a washroom with someone of a different biological sex and that would have to do with their own understandings and their own belief systems, and it makes sense to me; however, we need to uphold a higher standard at a school.”

While the implementation of these single-stall bathrooms at our school is an important step forward, there is much that still can be done. Ms. Cresswell said that, while we have done a lot, “we’ve isolated and marginalized” transgender individuals again, since they have to “go to the special room.”

Ms. Notarfranco, the teacher supervisor of the GSA and longtime advocate for transgender rights, believes that, in some cases, multi-stall bathrooms can be easily altered to be gender neutral by just changing the sign, while keeping several bathrooms as gender-specific to let students have multiple options.

Ms. Shortreed agrees that taking action to ensure that students feel comfortable at school is crucial. “When we do the right thing for any one person,” she told us, “whether it’s allowing them to have a test they can read by increasing the font or creating a washroom where they feel safe, it means that they are accepted in our community. They’re included in what we do and that they can be successful at school.”

This is not just about bathrooms. This is about giving many students at our school the safety and comfort of which they are often wrongly deprived. There are students who do not identify as a specific gender or would prefer not to disclose their gender to the public and, as one student we interviewed said about the choice to have a gender neutral washroom, “it’s freedom.”

If you would prefer to use  a gender neutral bathroom, there are two in the main office and one in Rec. For more information, feel free to speak to Ms. Gerrie, any guidance counsellor, or any staff member you trust at the school.