Last year Student Council passed a motion to look into the feasibility of introducing Gender Neutral Toilets in the Students’ Union, and when I started in this role in July this was one of my top priorities. I was determined that we’d bring about the necessary changes in our Union to start dismantling gender norms, raising the visibility of Trans* and non-binary students, and begin to create an inclusive environment for everyone.
Last week the Students’ Union put up our first ‘Gender Neutral’ sign on a toilet door. While it just replaced a disability symbol on the door of a single occupancy toilet, after conversations with Trans* students I realised that even small but significant steps like this are appreciated. You see, our ‘male’ and ‘female’ toilets on the Ground Floor just aren’t suitable to be changed overnight. The lack of privacy in these toilets creates issues around safety, and would only cause further anxiety for vulnerable students. But I am committed to changing this.
Many of you might be wondering what the benefits of gender neutral toilets are? For Trans* people they breakdown the gender normative ‘male’ and ‘female’, recognising that gender is fluid and that there is a diverse spectrum of gender identity. Gender norms have reinforced what a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ are supposed to look like, act like, how they dress, walk, speak, and even what roles they play in society. Trans* people often face barriers as the result of these norms. They just don’t fit into such perceptions. But it is not their identities that don’t fit in. Gender norms do not fit into our common humanity, nor do they embrace the diversity of our student population. So we need to do something about it.
Gender neutral toilets are just the beginning. Currently our Ground Floor toilets are painted two bright colours. Can you guess which colours? Believe it or not, the male toilets are blue, and the female toilets are pink. A perfect example of gender normativity. I was assigned the sex of ‘male’ at birth, and I identify as a man. Therefore I am cisgender. But I like pink too, so screw gender normativity.
Designated toilets for men and women create a dilemma for Trans* people. Imagine having to think about which toilet to walk into? Take into account that you may not be safe, you may get funny looks, or even comments. “You shouldn’t be in here.” Often Trans* people will choose not to go to the toilet, instead ‘holding it in’. This causes often severe health problems. By creating toilets that are welcoming to all people, we remove that initial barrier that causes so much anxiety and deliberation.
Gender neutral facilities can also be very positive for everyone, including cisgender men and women. Gay men, viewed as ‘effeminate’, often face bullying, harassment, and physical violence in toilets, while lesbians can also face similar violence and abuse in the women’s bathrooms. By removing designated toilets in communal areas we can begin to foster a greater respect for different identities.
Gender neutral toilets should be the norm, but gender-designated bathrooms are fine too. Some women may not want to share toilet facilities with men, and vice versa. And that’s absolutely fine. Having spoken to many people about their experiences’ on other university campuses, I quickly realised that gender neutral provision in communal and busy areas should be the accepted norm, but that gender designated toilets should be signposted on other floors. I’d like to see this happen in the Union.
But, it shouldn’t just be the Union.
If a Trans* person needs the bathroom, they aren’t going to walk from the MBC or the Ashby just to use the Students’ Union’s facilities. They may choose to do that in order to avoid entering a toilet that they don’t feel comfortable or welcome in, but they shouldn’t have to. This is why I have launched ‘Bogs for All’. Over the next few weeks I aim to talk to Estates, senior management, and to every School about how we go about providing gender neutral toilets in as many of the 220 buildings on our campus as possible.
Queen’s must begin to embrace the concept of gender neutral toilets and recognise in all aspects of our work that gender is a wonderful spectrum. I believe that we can achieve a lot in the coming months, and we will never look back.
That’s where you come in. If you want to get involved with the campaign to bring about gender neutral toilets on campus, or even if you have some suggestions as to where they could be introduced, I want you to get in contact! You’ll find all my contact details here.
I went on a journey of learning and discovery when I started to approach issues of Trans* visibility, healthcare, and rights. I want you all to join me on that journey. We won’t always get it right, and it won’t always be easy to make lasting change. But for the sake of all our staff, students, and for our society, we need to start somewhere. I believe QUB can be a leader. After all, this is a place of leadership, education, and progress.
This campaign means a lot to our non-binary students on campus, who have been a huge support to me in the course of my time in the Union. I hope when I walk out the door at the end of my term that Queen’s will be a more inclusive place for them to study, achieve, learn, and make a difference.