A men’s washroom on the Burnaby campus of Simon Fraser University is about to get a sign declaring “all genders welcome”.
Nathan Lyndsay told the Georgia Straight the sign will also feature a toilet symbol and the following words: “This toilet has been liberated from the gender binary.”
Lyndsay, a 24-year-old gender, sexuality, and women’s studies student at SFU, is one of the organizers of a “shit-in” protest set for Wednesday (February 18) at 1 p.m. in the Academic Quadrangle.
A group of transgender and gender-variant students and their allies plan to occupy the men’s washroom across from Room C9001 on the 3000 level to highlight the “huge need” for gender-inclusive facilities on campus.
“I think that, when we divide places to go to the bathroom by men and women, we’re creating identity centres essentially and not just having places where people can go pee or wash their hands,” Lyndsay, who identifies as transmasculine, said by phone from Vancouver’s West End. “When a trans or gender-variant person who needs to use a washroom needs to go, it’s an issue of safety. So, maybe, if they go to the men’s bathroom, they’re going to fear being raped or being attacked physically, whereas in the women’s bathroom, they’re going to be verbally threatened.”
Last fall, Lyndsay was involved in a campaign that called on SFU to allow trans and gender-variant students to use their preferred names on their student identification cards and class lists. A couple weeks ago, he said, organizers of that push found out they had “won”.
“I think they’re in the process of developing the policy for it,” Lyndsay said. “But they’re going to allow trans and gender-variant students to have their chosen name appear on their student cards, because right now it has to be your legal name. So if you haven’t legally changed your name, you have your legal name on there.”
Now, organizers of next week’s shit-in plan to demand that the university establish a number of gender-inclusive washrooms on campus. Lyndsay noted calls for gender-neutral washrooms at SFU go back at least a decade.
Monica Bisal, a spokesperson with SFU’s communications office, told the Straight the university has accommodated “short-term requests” for gender-neutral washrooms at its Harbour Centre location.
Bisal noted that some of SFU’s student residences, such as Shell House, have gender-neutral washrooms, and the planned student union building will have such facilities. But to the best of her knowledge, SFU hasn’t received a formal “university-wide request” for gender-inclusive washrooms.
“We do have a renewal program currently in process that involves renewing our traditional gender-specific washrooms, and currently those are going to be maintained as gender-specific,” Bisal said by phone from the Burnaby campus. “Part of the reason for that is it’s driven by the physical constraints of the existing washrooms. Some of the older buildings have really limited space and infrastructure.”
Lyndsay said he is aware of a washroom in the campus library that has signage indicating that it’s gender-inclusive. He noted that the single-stall, wheelchair-accessible washrooms on campus are technically unisex but aren’t designed to be trans-inclusive.
While SFU administrators might be concerned about the cost of building new gender-inclusive washrooms, the student maintained that just changing the signage on existing washrooms would be “cost-effective”.
“I don’t think they realize the actual risk of violence that people face,” Lyndsay said. “I’ve heard students at SFU talk about having violent incidents happen or being questioned about what bathroom they’re in. To me, that’s going to outweigh the money it’s going to take to replace signage.”
Lyndsay noted he even knows trans people who have developed bladder infections due to their fear of washrooms.
In a “perfect world”, he personally would like to see SFU convert all of its men’s washrooms into gender-inclusive facilities. Signs would be added to women’s washrooms making them trans-inclusive.
“Women and trans and gender-variant folks face similar violence from cis men,” Lyndsay said, referring to cisgender men, whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
He added: “I do think it’s important to respect women’s need to have a space just for women. I do think that is important. I think that there’s no real reason why cis men need to have their own space, because they don’t fear violence in the same way that trans and gender-variant folks and women do in the world.”
Lyndsay is hoping to get as many students as possible to participate in the shit-in. He wants SFU administrators to sit down with trans and gender-variant students, hear their concerns, and make a plan for gender-inclusive washrooms on campus.
“With the IDs and preferred name, they’ve actually been pretty okay,” Lyndsay said. “We didn’t really have to fight them as hard as I anticipated. They did that fairly quickly and kind of got it and understood. So I’m hoping that with this action they’ll kind of jump on board in the same way that they did with the preferred names.”